After Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer killed Cecil the Lion last year, he faced a global backlash – but he never faced criminal charges. And now Zimbabwe officials have announced they’ve dropped the charges against Theo Bronkhorst, the professional local hunter who organized the killing.
As you probably recall, Palmer paid Bronkhorst over $50,000 in July 2015 for the sick pleasure of killing the most famous lion in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park with a bow and arrow.
Cecil was known and loved for his large size, unique black mane and his friendliness toward park visitors. He was the leader of two prides with six lionesses and 12 cubs. Oxford researchers were monitoring him for a study on lion conservation, since lions could become extinct in Africa as soon as 2050.
All of that came to an end on the night of July 1, 2015. In the cover of darkness, Bronkhorst and other professional hunters lured the friendly 13-year-old lion out of the park, where hunting is prohibited by law. Palmer shot this beautiful beast with an arrow in a field just outside the park. Poor Cecil didn’t die right away. Eleven hours later, the hunters tracked down the wounded lion. Bronkhorst shot him with a rifle, killing him.
Palmer returned to the United States. After he was identified as the trophy hunter who killed Cecil, he cowardly went into hiding, temporarily closing his dentistry practice. Zimbabwe’s Environment Minister Oppah Muchinguri called for him to be extradited, and promised that the others who participated in illegally killing Cecil would also be made accountable.
But three months after Cecil’s murder, Muchinguri said Palmer would not be charged because “all his papers were in order.” He had obtained legal permission to hunt, so Zimbabwe officials decided he hadn’t broken the law.
Also not being made accountable is Bronkhorst, who this month was cleared of charges that included illegal poaching by laying bait to lure Cecil out of the park, and failing to stop an illegal hunt. A Zimbabwe court ruled that the charges “were too vague to enable to him to mount a proper defense,” BBC News reports. Being unable to mount a proper defense sounds a lot like Cecil’s situation the night he was killed.
There’s some comfort in knowing that Cecil did not die entirely in vain. His murder brought worldwide attention to the disgusting “sport” of trophy hunting. Last December, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the African lion would finally be protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The United States has stopped allowing the importation of lion hunting trophies from Zimbabwe. Several major airlines now refuse to transport these trophies.
According to BBC News, charges could still be filed against Bronkhorst. More than 1.1 million Care2 members have signed a petition demanding justice for Cecil. Please join them.
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