Cecil the Lion and Walter the Dentist

Published Jul 29, 2015

NEWS:   Walter Palmer, an American dentist, is accused of illegally killing Cecil the Lion after luring him out of a Zimbabwean game reserve.

On 28 July 2015, American dentist Dr. Walter Palmer was accused of killing a famous lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, a "free roam" wildlife zone.

According to the Associated Press, Palmer has been identified by Zimbabwean authorities as the hunter who killed Cecil the Lion. While authorities say that they are seeking poaching charges against the dentist, Palmer claims that he didn't know he was doing anything illegal:

"In early July, I was in Zimbabwe on a bow hunting trip for big game. I hired several professional guides and they secured all proper permits. To my knowledge, everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted.

"I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt. I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt.

"I have not been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or in the U.S. about this situation, but will assist them in any inquiries they may have.

"Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion."

The merits of big game hunting are frequently debated on social media. While "trophy" photographs often stir up anger on the Internet, these images typically come from legal hunts.

But that may not be the case here. Although Walter Palmer maintains he had all of the proper permits for the hunt, the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force says that Cecil the Lion was lured out of the protected game reserve area by Palmer's hunting party:

On or about the 6th July 2015, Walter James Palmer was taken to Hwange National Park by professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst. They went hunting at night with a spotlight and they spotted Cecil. 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. Mr Palmer shot Cecil with a bow and arrow, but this shot didn't kill him. They tracked him down and found him 40 hours later, when they shot him with a gun. They found that he was fitted with a GPS collar because he was being studied by the Hwange Lion Research, funded by Oxford University, so they tried to destroy the collar but failed because it was found.

Cecil was skinned and beheaded. We don’t know the whereabouts of the head. Walter Palmer apparently paid $50,000 for the kill, and we assume Theo Bronkhorst received this money. Cecil, who was known all over the world, would have earned millions of dollars just from sightseeing. There was apparently no quota or licence for a lion to be killed in this area.

The saddest part of all is that now that Cecil is dead, the next lion in the heirarchy, Jericho, will most likely kill all Cecil’s cubs so that he can insert his own bloodline into the females. This is standard procedure for lions.

Walter Palmer admitted to killing Cecil the Lion, but he denied his involvement in luring the lion out of the protected game area. This may be true, but the New York Times reports that Palmer pleaded guilty in 2008 to making a false statement to federal officials in regards to a black bear that he killed in Wisconsin.

The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority has also filed charges against two local hunters who aided Palmer:

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.

Both professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst’s licence number 553 who was involved in the hunt and the owner of Antoinette farm, Mr. Honest Trymore Ndlovu are being jointly charged for illegally hunting the lion. The two are due to appear in court on Wednesday, 29 July 2015. Efforts are being made to interview the other professional hunter, Zane Bronkhorst, licence number 558, who was also involved in the illegal hunt.

On 31 July 2015, Oppah Muchinguri, a senior member of President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party, said that the Prosecutor General had started the process to extradite Walter Palmer from the United States so that he can face charges for illegally killing Cecil the Lion:

"It was too late to apprehend the foreign poacher because he had already absconded to his country of origin... The illegal killing was deliberate. We are appealing to the responsible authorities for his extradition to Zimbabwe so that he can be held accountable for his illegal actions."

Dan Evon is a former writer for Snopes.