In a stunning reversal on Monday, Zimbabwe officials announced that they will no longer seek to extradite Walter Palmer, a Minnesota dentist who had drawn international outrage over killing a popular black-maned lion named Cecil in July.
The BBC reported that an investigation by the country’s Parks and Wildlife Authority revealed that Palmer had indeed procured the legal authority to hunt the lion, although the agency did not give additional details regarding the legality of the methods used in the taking of the animal.
“We approached the police and then the Prosecutor General, and it turned out that Palmer came to Zimbabwe because all the papers were in order,” Zimbabwe Environment Minister Oppah Muchinguri told the BBC.
Zimbabwe officials initially accused Palmer of poaching the lion outside Hwange National Park in July. At the time, government officials believed that Palmer conducted the hunt without the proper permits. Palmer’s guide, Theo Bronkhorst, and the landowner who owned the farm where Cecil was shot with a bow, Honest Trymore Ndvolu, were both arrested for their part in facilitating the excursion. While Zimbabwe officials have confirmed that they now no longer seek to charge Palmer with any crime, the trial against Bronkhorst is still scheduled to continue on Thursday. The two men have been formally charged with “failing to prevent an illegal hunt” by baiting the lion out of the protected park.
Palmer may no longer face extradition to Zimbabwe, but the Minnesota dentist seems to have already been convicted in the court of public opinion. Palmer, his family, and his dental practice have faced waves of protests, vandalism, and death threats since July. Palmer avoided the brunt of the outrage by hiding himself from the public eye, but he always maintained that he thought the taking of the lion was legal.
“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,” he said in a statement in July. “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.”
Muchinguri told Rueters that Palmer would be welcome back in Zimbabwe as a tourist, but not as a hunter.
The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF) and other groups urged officials to rethink their decision regarding Palmer, who they maintain poached Cecil in July.
“The fact is the law was broken. We are going to get our advocates in America to actually see what they can do to bring justice to him,” ZCTF spokesperson Johnny Rodrigues told reporters.
Palmer, who reopened his dental office in September, has yet to comment on this turn of events.
Images from Twitter and Varnent on the Wikimedia Commons