Zimbabwean hunter pleads 'not guilty' of killing Cecil the lion, freed after posting bail

By @nessdoctor on
theo bronkhorst
Zimbabwean hunter Theo Bronkhorst (left) and safari operator Honest Ndlovu wait to appear in Hwange magistrates court, July 29, 2015. Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

Theo Bronkhorst, the local professional hunter who allegedly aided American dentist Walter James Palmer in killing Cecil the lion, has pleaded "not guilty" to allegations made against him in the Zimbabwean court. Bronkhorst was charged with "failing to supervise, control and take reasonable steps to prevent an unlawful hunt" on July 1 at the Antoinette farm in the Hwange district’s Gwayi Conservancy. He entered his plea in a courthouse in Hwange on Wednesday and was set free after posting $1,000 (AU$1,300) bail.

The Age reports that Bronkhorst also surrendered his passport, which prevents him from leaving Zimbabwe. He is expected to face trial on Aug. 5. Meanwhile, Antoinette land owner Honest Trymore Ndlovu, who allegedly conspired with Bronkhorst, have not received any charges yet and will likely testify for the state first.

A case has yet to be filed against Palmer as well, who is being ridiculed online for his actions. According to various reports, the Minnesotan trophy hunter is presumed to be in hiding as of this writing and has already left Zimbabwe several weeks ago. CNN reports that  Palmer admitted to killing Cecil but said that it was his guides who had misinformed him.

"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," Palmer said in the report from CNN . "I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt," he added.

He also noted that neither the U.S. nor the Zimbabwean authorities have contacted him about the matter, adding that he is willing to assist them if they have any inquiries about the controversial hunt.

Cecil the lion, aged 13 years, was under the care of the Zimbabwean national government. Part of a research project by Oxford University, Cecil  also wore a GPS collar. The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force claimed that both Bronkhorst and Palmer had tied a dead animal to their vehicle to lure the lion. The first fire at Cecil, using a crossbow, reportedly did not kill him. It was only about 40 hours later, after being hunted down, when he was shot dead by the hunters. The lion was also beheaded and skinned.

Bronkhorst could face a fine of US$20,000 (AU$27,000) if found guilty. He could also face jail time of up to 10 years.

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