Two Zimbabweans arrested for illegally hunting a protected lion named Cecil were in court on Wednesday as anger at the kill by an American dentist escalated.
“If, as has been reported, this dentist and his guides lured Cecil out of the park with food so as to shoot him on private property … he needs to be extradited, charged, and, preferably, hanged,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said in a statement Wednesday.
Social media platforms — for example on Twitter under #cecilthelion — were also filled with condemnation of the killing of the black-maned lion just outside Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe.
The Zimbabwean men — one, a professional hunter and a farm owner — are accused of helping American Walter James Palmer, hunt the lion on July 1 in western Zimbabwe’s wildlife-rich Hwange region. The lion’s carcass was discovered days later by trackers. Zimbabwean police said they are looking for Palmer, who reportedly paid $50,000 to track and kill the animal. They said Palmer is being sought on poaching charges, but Palmer said he hasn’t heard from the U.S. or Zimbabwean authorities.
Johnny Rodrigues on American dentist who killed famous lion in Zimbabwe
For more on American dentist shot dead famous lion in Zimbabwe. CCTV America’s Elaine Reyes spoke to Johnny Rodrigues. He’s the chairman of Zimbabwe conservation task force.
Johnny Rodrigues on American dentist shot dead famous lion in ZimbabweFor more on American dentist shot dead famous lion in Zimbabwe. CCTV America's Elaine Reyes spoke to Johnny Rodrigues. He's the chairman of Zimbabwe conservation task force.
Palmer, 55, a dentist living in the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie, said in a statement that he was on a guided bow hunting trip for big game in Zimbabwe and had no idea the lion he killed was protected and that he relied on the expertise of his local guides to ensure the hunt was legal.
During a nighttime hunt, the men tied a dead animal to their car to lure the lion out of a national park, said Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force. Palmer is believed to have shot it with a crossbow, injuring the animal. The wounded lion was found 40 hours later, and Palmer shot it dead with a gun, Rodrigues said. Cecil was being studied by an Oxford University research program.
“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,” Palmer said in statement through a public relations firm.
“I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion,” he said.
The two Zimbabwean men appeared at the Hwange magistrate’s court, about 435 miles (700 kilometers) west of the capital Harare, to face poaching charges. If convicted, the men face up to 15 years in prison in Zimbabwe.
The professional hunter who allegedly acted as Palmer’s guide has been stripped of his license while he faces criminal charges, the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority and the Safari Operators Association said in a joint statement. The farm owner also facing criminal charges did not have a hunting permit, the joint statement said.
According to U.S. court records, Palmer pleaded guilty in 2008 to making false statements to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about a black bear he fatally shot in western Wisconsin. Palmer had a permit to hunt, but shot the animal outside the authorized zone in 2006, then tried to pass it off as being killed elsewhere, according to court documents. He was given one year probation and fined nearly $3,000.
The lion’s death has outraged animal conservationists and others, including U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, a Minnesota Democrat. In a statement late Tuesday, the congresswoman called for an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to see whether any U.S. laws were violated.
A Facebook page for Palmer’s Minnesota dental practice was taken offline Tuesday after users flooded it with comments condemning Palmer’s involvement in the hunt. Hundreds of similar comments inundated a page for his dental practice on the review platform Yelp, which prior to Tuesday had only three comments.
Some people left stuffed animals at the door to his shuttered office Tuesday in a sign of protest.
Palmer is properly licensed and able to practice in the state, according to the Minnesota Board of Dentistry. Board records show that Palmer was the subject of a sexual harassment complaint settled in 2006, with Palmer admitting no wrongdoing and agreeing to pay a former receptionist more than $127,000.
EFFORTS TO SAVE LIONS
While the world expresses outrage over the incident, elsewhere in the world people are working to save lions.
Israeli veterinarian Yigal Horwitz and staff operated on Samouni, an 8-year-old African lion, during surgery in the Ramat Gan Zoological Center’s animal hospital near Tel Aviv, Israel, on Wednesday.
The 200-kilogram (440-pound) African lion went in for surgery to remove a tumour from his stomach.
On Tuesday, seven lions that were transported from South Africa to Rwanda in late June were released into a wildlife park after weeks of quarantine as part of a plan to restore the country’s lion population after it was wiped out following Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, the park’s managers said Tuesday.
The lions left an enclosure a day earlier and were being monitored through their satellite collars, said Sarah Hall, tourism and marketing manager for Akagera National Park in Rwanda. The five lionesses had been walking together along a road while the two males were “more cautious” and staying closer to the enclosure, she said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
The Akagera park is managed by African Parks, a Johannesburg-based group. Cattle herders poisoned Rwanda’s last lions about 15 years ago after the park was left unmanaged in the genocide’s wake. Returning refugees took over much of the park, reducing its size by more than half.
The lions, which come from different prides, include a 10-year-old mother and her 1-year-old daughter. The males are three and four years old and are unrelated, according to African Parks. In quarantine, the lions were fed every two to three days with impala carcasses.
Akagera already has predators, including leopards and hyenas, Hall said. She predicted that the newly arrived lions would have a relatively easy time hunting prey, particularly among the park’s older animals.
Story by the Associated Press