A professional hunter is facing criminal charges in Zimbabwe in the death of a beloved lion.
Cecil the lion was found beheaded and skinned outside the Hwange national park in early July. The hunter, Theo Bronkhorst, of Bushman Safaris, was charged by police in Victoria Falls after officials said they determined the hunt was illegal.
A Minnesota dentist, Dr. Walter Palmer, is accused of paying $50,000 for the hunt, and may have killed the famed lion. But a spokesperson for Palmer said the 55-year-old big game hunter did nothing illegal.
“What he’ll tell you is that he had the proper legal permits and he had hired several professional guides, so he’s not denying that he may be the person who shot this lion. He is a big-game hunter; he hunts the world over,” Palmer’s spokesman told The Guardian in a statement.
Bronkhorst appeared in court on Wednesday.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Officials Say Bronkhorst Had No Permit to Justify the Killing of Cecil
Cecil the lion was killed on Antionette farm in Gwayi Conservancy in the Hwange district, the Zimbwabe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority said.
“They went hunting at night with a spotlight and they spotted Cecil,” Johnny Rodrigues, a spokesman for the Zimbwabe Conservation Task Force, told The Guardian. “They tied a dead animal to their vehicle to lure Cecil out of the park and they scented an area about half a kilometre from the park.”
Rodrigues said Palmer first shot Cecil with a crossbow, but it did not kill him. They then “tracked him down and found him 40 hours later” and shot him with a rifle, Rodrigues said.
Theo Bronkhorst, the founder of Bushman Safaris, was charged on Monday by police in Victoria Falls for the allegedly illegal slaying of Cecil, a 13-year-old lion who was collared and being tracked by Oxford University since 1999 and was well known in Zimbabwe.
“Ongoing investigations to date, suggest that the killing of the lion was illegal since the land owner was not allocated a lion on his hunting quota for 2015,” the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority said in a statement. “Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management as the Regulatory Authority and custodian of all wild animals in Zimbabwe issues hunting permits and hunting quota for all hunting areas in Zimbabwe so that only animals on quota are to be hunted. In this case, 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.”
Bronkhorst denies the charges.
“It was a magnificent, mature lion. We did not know it was well-known lion,” he told The Telegraph newspaper. “I had a licence for my client to shoot a lion with a bow and arrow in the area where it was shot.
2. He Runs the Safari Company With His Wife & Sons
Theo Bronkhorst runs the hunting company with his family. His son, Zane Bronkhorst, is also a professional hunter and is suspected of being involved in the hunt. Authorities are attempting to interview him.
Bushman Safaris is a “family run safari outfit in Zimbabwe” that was founded in 1992 by Theo Bronkhorst, according to its Facebook page.
“Today with sons Zane and Jason and wife Michele we are fully established and have concessions in the north of Zimbabwe close to Victoria Falls conducting great big game safaris such as buffalo, elephant etc. We also have our own really successful hound pack with years of experience and lots of great leopard taken and being the only local houndsmen in the country.”
Several people have posted angry comments to the Bushman Safaris page. In a July 1 post, prior to the lion hunt, Bushman Safaris said, “Thanks to all who like our page.Understanding how we as hunters do far more for conservation of our wildlife than anti hunters whom probably almost 100% have never even seen or been around our wildlife.Thank you and be proud to be hunters or understanding what we do.”
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3. The Owner of the Land Where Cecil Was Killed Is Also Facing Charges
The land owner of the private Antoinette farm, Honest Trymore Ndlovu, is also facing charges.
Ndlovu’s land borders the national park. He also appeared in court on Wednesday.
4. Palmer Is a Practicing Dentist Who Travels Around the World to Hunt Big Game
Palmer, 55, is a dentist from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, with a practice in Bloomington, near Minneapolis. He told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that he plans to dispute some of what is being said later Tuesday.
“Obviously, some things are being misreported,” he said.
He has hunted big game all over the world, according to what his spokesperson told The Guardian and photos posted online from previous hunts. Several photos showing him with dead big game animals, including a leopard, rhino and elk, were posted to the website “Trophy Hunt America.”
An album of photos on Smugmug called “Safari Connection” shows Palmer with a different dead lion in 2008.
Palmer was profiled in 2009 by the New York Times after he killed a trophy elk in California.
Palmer told the Times that he paid $45,000 to hunt at the elk habitat in 2009 and killed it with a bow and arrow. He learned how to hunt at 5.
“I don’t have a golf game,” Palmer told the Times.
He also faced potential prison time in 2008 for lying to a federal agent about where he killed a bear in Wisconsin. He was later sentenced to probation.
5. Cecil’s Cubs Will Likely be Killed by Another Lion
“He never bothered anybody,” Johnny Rodrigues, of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told The Telegraph about Cecil. “He was one of the most beautiful animals to look at.”
The conservation task force said Cecil had several cubs.
“The saddest part of all is that now that Cecil is dead, the next lion in the hierarchy, Jericho, will most likely kill all Cecil’s cubs so that he can insert his own bloodline into the females,” the task force said.
“That’s how it works… it’s in the wild; it’s nature taking its course,” Rodrigues told the BBC.