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Trial due to open in Zimbabwe over Cecil the lion's death

05 August 2015, 07:31

Hwange - The professional Zimbabwean hunter who led the expedition that killed Cecil the lion was due to stand trial on Wednesday on charges of organising an illegal hunt.

Theo Bronkhorst, who runs a safari company, denies any wrongdoing over the hunt in early July when Walter Palmer, a dentist from the American state of Minnesota, paid $55 000 to shoot the lion with a bow and arrow.

The hunt provoked worldwide outrage when it emerged that Cecil was a well-known attraction among visitors to the Hwange National Park and was wearing a tracking collar as part of an Oxford University research project.

Also Read: At least 1.5 million face hunger in Zimbabwe – report

Palmer, an experienced trophy hunter, became the target of vicious abuse and death threats over the killing, and went into hiding after demonstrations outside his dental practice.

He apologised for killing Cecil, who was renowned for his distinctive black mane, and blamed Bronkhorst for misleading him.

'I don’t foresee any jail sentence'

But Bronkhorst said that he was innocent of all charges and had obtained the permits required to kill an elderly lion that was outside the national park boundaries.

"We shot an old male lion that I believed was past his breeding age," Bronkhorst told AFP last week. "I don't think that I've done anything wrong.

"We had done everything above board. I don't foresee any jail sentence."

Bronkhorst added that Palmer had stayed in Zimbabwe only three days and that the two had not been in contact since news of Cecil's death triggered global fury.

"We expect the trial to start tomorrow and we are ready," prosecutor Namatirai Ngwasha said on Tuesday.

"Unless the lawyers come to court and make an application to postpone, the trial should start as scheduled."

Undesirable elements

The case will be held at Hwange court, where Bronkhorst was granted bail last week after being charged with "failing to prevent an illegal hunt".

Zimbabwean authorities have launched a crackdown on illegal hunting.

"It is important to weed out undesirable elements who are tarnishing the image of the industry," Edison Chidziya, head of the Zimbabwe Wildlife Management Authority, said on Tuesday.

Also Read: Zim court ruling opens way for mass firings - union

"We want to investigate the whole industry to make sure this case is isolated."

The hunting of lions, leopards and elephants in the area around the national park in western Zimbabwe has been suspended, as has hunting with bows and arrows.

Hunting tourism brings about $40m a year into the country.

The United States has yet to respond to Zimbabwe's request for Palmer to be extradited to face charges.



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