HWANGE: Two men were due to appear in a Zimbabwean court on poaching charges Wednesday after a wealthy American dentist killed a beloved lion just outside a national park, sparking criticism around the world.
Cecil the lion, a popular attraction among international visitors to Hwange National Park, was lured beyond the reserve´s boundaries by bait and killed earlier this month.
The hunter was identified as Walter Palmer, a dentist and experienced trophy hunter from Minnesota, who allegedly paid $50,000 for the hunt.
Professional Zimbabwean hunter Theo Bronkhorst and local landowner Honest Ndlovu will appear in court in Hwange town on Wednesday to face poaching charges.
The two were seen at the court venue waiting for the hearing. A family friend said that Bronkhorst believed he had acted legally during the hunt and was shocked to find that the lion was wearing a collar.
“He is a very professional, very honest conservationist,” Ian Ferguson told AFP.
“This has just about destroyed the family, his wife has virtually had a nervous breakdown.
“The whole thing was perfectly legal. When they found the lion had a collar he went and reported to the national parks immediately.
“This was just a terrible, very unfortunate act.” Palmer issued a statement on Tuesday that suggested he had left Zimbabwe weeks ago.
“I have not been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or in the US about this situation, but will assist them in any inquiries they may have,” he said, without revealing his whereabouts.
Palmer, who shot Cecil with a powerful bow and arrow, said he had “relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt”.
“I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practise responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion,” he said.
“I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favourite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt.”