Many Call for Prosecution of Walter Palmer, Dentist Who Killed Zimbabwe’s Cecil the Lion

There are mounting calls for the prosecution of an American dentist who killed one of Africa’s most famous lions, as two other men involved in the hunt prepare to appear in court in Zimbabwe on Wednesday.

Walter Palmer, who runs a dental practice in Minnesota and hunts big game for sport, is accused of illegally killing Cecil, a protected African lion, in Zimbabwe on a $50,000 (£32,000) hunt.

Two men thought to have accompanied Palmer on the hunt, professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst, and Honest Ndlovu, a local landowner, will appear in court in Victoria Falls to face poaching charges.

Cecil, a popular sight among international visitors to Hwange National Park, was lured outside the reserve’s boundaries by bait and killed earlier this month. After being hit by a bolt from Palmer's crossbow, Cecil ran off and survived for 40 more hours in agony until the hunters tracked him and shot him in the head. They then decapitated and skinned him. Cecil wore a radio tracking collar, which the hunters attempted to destroy, but failed.

“Both the professional hunter and land owner had no permit or quota to justify the offtake of the lion and therefore are liable for the illegal hunt,” the Zimbabwean parks authority said in a statement on Tuesday.

The statement made no mention of Palmer. But the charity Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said Palmer and Bronkhorst had gone out at night with a spotlight and tied a dead animal to their vehicle to lure Cecil into range so Palmer could shoot the lion with a crossbow.

In a statement to the Guardian, Palmer confirmed he had been in Zimbabwe in early July on a bow-hunting trip. “To my knowledge, everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted,” he claimed.

He is facing angry calls in the US for his prosecution. Former speaker of the US House of Representatives Newt Gringrich tweeted that Palmer should be jailed. Betty McCollum, a Republican member of Congress who represents Minnesota, called on the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Justice to investigate whether the killing violated endangered species laws, according to the local Star Tribune.

Protesters placed animal toys outside Palmer’s River Duff dental practice in Bloomington, a suburb of Minneapolis. The practice was forced to close due to the uproar over the incident. Two protesters staged a recreation of the hunt involving toys and water pistols.

Safari operators said Cecil, aged about 13, was an “iconic” animal who was recognized by many visitors to Hwange due to his distinctive black mane.

“A lot of people travel long distances coming to Zimbabwe to enjoy our wildlife and obviously the absence of Cecil is a disaster,” Emmanuel Fundira, president of the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe, told reporters in the capital, Harare.

Palmer’s Twitter and Facebook accounts and website of his dental practice were all closed after being overwhelmed with criticism. Comedian Ricky Gervais, boxer Lennox Lewis and writer Neil Gaiman are among those expressing disgust at the killing.

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