In Brief

Cecil: decision to drop charges against lion killer 'disgraceful'

Fresh outrage as Zimbabwe says Walter Palmer's papers were in order and he won't be charged

Walter Palmer, the dentist who shot Cecil the lion, will face no charges, Zimbabwean officials have announced, sparking fresh outrage from animal lovers.

Palmer's hunting permits were all "in order", the government said, and he did not breach Zimbabwean law, despite the animal having being killed in an area where hunting is outlawed. President Robert Mugabe has laid the blame for Cecil's death on his "own people", insisting that they were responsible for failing to protect the animal from "foreign vandals".

It marks a "spectacular about-turn" from environment minister Oppah Muchinguri, who in July called for Palmer's extradition as a "foreign poacher", says the Daily Telegraph.

The decision not to charge Palmer follows a lengthy investigation by Zimbabwean officials, who detained professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst. His testimony to local magistrates included an admission that the hunting party was "never meant to hunt on the land where this lion was shot".

Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota, became the focus of worldwide attention when it was revealed that he was responsible for shooting Cecil, one of the best-loved animals in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, using a bow and arrow. Palmer reportedly paid Bronkhurst about £35,000 to organise the hunting trip at the beginning of July.

News of Cecil's death caused international outrage and online death threats, prompting Palmer to go into hiding.

Dominic Dyer, policy advisor for Born Free Foundation, told BBC Radio 4's PM programme it was a "disgraceful decision" to drop the charges, but added that he was not surprised the government was passing the blame to the guides.

"I think what Zimbabwe is really trying to do is say: 'It is business as usual. We don't want hunters like Mr Palmer to come to this country and face prosecution and prison. We want them to come to this country and spend their money, spend £35,000+ killing our wildlife.'"

Hunter who killed Cecil the lion breaks silence

07 September

The American dentist who caused global outrage by killing Cecil the lion during a hunt in Zimbabwe has broken his silence and defended his actions.

Walter Palmer has kept a low profile since the news of his hunt broke, but he says he now wants to get his personal and professional life back on track, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.

Palmer killed Cecil, the star attraction at Hwange national park, during a hunt in July.  He has since been the target of protests and death threats and a home he owns in Florida was also vandalised by animal rights activists.

Despite the ongoing controversy, he said he felt safe enough to return to work at his dental practice. "My staff and my patients support me and they want me back," he told the newspaper.

The practice was forced to close its doors temporarily and Palmer said he was "heartbroken" about the disruption caused to his staff members.

He also described how his wife and daughter had been attacked on social media."I don't understand that level of humanity to come after people not involved at all," he said.

Palmer denies acting illegally and said he was unaware of Cecil's notoriety. "If I had known this lion had a name and was important to the country or a study obviously I wouldn't have taken it," he said. "Nobody in our hunting party knew before or after the name of this lion."

He admitted wounding the lion with an arrow, but denied that it took 40 hours to track down the animal and kill it, insisting Cecil died the following day.

The 55-year-old has not been charged with a crime, but the Zimbabwean government has said that it wishes to extradite and prosecute Palmer, the BBC reports.

Two local men involved in the hunt – professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst and farm owner Honest Ndlovu – have already been charged with poaching offences. 

Palmer refused to rule out returning to Zimbabwe to hunt. "I don't know about the future," he said."Zimbabwe has been a wonderful country for me to hunt in, and I have always followed the laws."

US airlines ban big game trophies after Cecil outrage

04 August

Three major US airlines have banned big game 'trophies' from their planes after the killing of Cecil the lion by an American hunter in Zimbabwe sparked global outrage.

American, Delta and United Airlines will no longer transport lion, rhinoceros, leopard, elephant or buffalo remains. The companies said the policy was "effective immediately" but declined to offer a reason for the decision.

"Airlines and other large travel corporations would be foolish to ignore the public reaction to the killing of Cecil the lion, and growing concern about the plight of endangered species," Paul Ferris, the campaign director at SumOfUs.org which has pushed for a change in cargo policies, told the New York Times.

The companies have been under pressure to ban trophy imports after US dentist Walter Palmer allegedly paid to shoot a lion in Zimbabwe, which turned out to be the country's star wildlife attraction, Cecil.

The rare black-maned lion was reportedly lured out of Hwange National Park, where he was protected, shot with a crossbow and tracked for 40 hours before he was finished off with a bullet, skinned and beheaded.

The decision represents a major U-turn for Delta Airlines in particular, which said earlier this year that it would continue to allow big game shipments as long as the animals were legally killed.

But travel industry consultant Henry Harteveldt pointed out that it would have been an easy decision for the company to make. "I don't think there was much of this shipment taking place, so there is minimal revenue loss and big PR gain for them," he told The Guardian.

But "resistance to change can run deep," says the NYT. It points out that although South African Airways led the way by banning trophy cargo earlier this year, there have been recent reports the airline has lifted the ban and resumed shipping trophy kills.

Cecil the lion: now find me an elephant, said dentist

31 July

Walter Palmer, the American dentist who shot dead Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, asked his African guide to find him a "very large" elephant to kill next. When the guide said he was unable to find one sufficiently large, Palmer left town.

Theo Bronkhorst was speaking to the Daily Telegraph after being remanded on bail by magistrates in Hwange, northwest Zimbabwe, charged with illegal hunting.

Bronkhorst told the paper he was devastated to have discovered his American client had shot a protected lion, and explained for the first time how it occurred.

His report is at odds with the accepted version that he and Palmer "tracked" the wounded animal for 40 hours before killing it: according to Bronkhorst, when the 13-year-old lion disappeared into the long grass after being shot by Palmer with a bow and arrow, they decided it was too dark to look for him and went home to sleep. The next morning they returned to the spot, found the wounded animal and Palmer shot him dead, again with his bow and arrow.

Bronkhorst told the Telegraph that the shoot went wrong right from the start after Palmer's luggage went missing when he flew into Bulawayo.

Because of the delay, Bronkhorst decided to divert from the hunting area he'd been aiming for and ended up on a farm called Antoinette, occupied by Honest Ndlovu. "We were never meant to hunt on the land where this lion was shot."

The hunting party "set off quite late, with the sun down, and found the carcass of an elephant which we dragged and moved into the long grass and used for bait," said Bronkhurst. "We then established the 'tree blind' [a camouflaged hide made of tree branches and grass].

"Once we were established, and it was quiet, we first saw a lioness go past. And then a huge male – Cecil – came into view behind her. He was a magnificent animal.

"The client then fired using a bow and arrow, and it [the lion] went away into the long grass. This was about 10pm."

Bronkhorst said he had a sense that the lion was hit – "but we couldn't do anything that night."

The hunting party went home and returned the following morning at about 9am. "We found it and it was wounded, and the client then shot it, with his bow and arrow, and killed it."

It was only then that the hunters saw it was wearing a GPS collar and was protected as part of an Oxford University research project.

"I was devastated," said Bronkhorst. "I could not have seen the collar at night. We would never shoot a collared animal. I was devastated, and so was the client, we were both upset, and I panicked and took it [the collar] off and put it in a tree."

Despite their error, the hunters then skinned and beheaded the lion – "as the client had paid for the trophy" – and returned to Bronkhorst's base at Hwange.

It was then that the Minnesota dentist asked if Bronkhorst could find him an elephant to shoot.

In the arcane language of big-game hunting, an elephant is "measured" by the weight of one tusk. Palmer wanted one larger than 63 pounds – "a very large elephant", according to Bronkhorst. "I told him I would not be able to find one so big, so the client left the next day."

Back in the United States, the authorities are trying to establish whether Palmer broke any US hunting regulations. The trouble is, they can't find him, CNN reports: the subject of threats and insults from across the world, Palmer has gone underground. His home in Minneapolis is empty, his practice, River Bluff Dental, "shuttered".  

"Multiple efforts to contact Dr Walter Palmer have been unsuccessful," said Edward Grace, deputy chief of law enforcement at the US Fish and Wildlife Service. "We ask that Dr. Palmer or his representative contact us immediately."

The BBC reports that the Obama administration has said it will review a public petition to extradite Palmer after more than 100,000 signed it.

But White House press secretary Josh Earnest said it was up to the US Justice Department to respond to any extradition request from Zimbabwe.

At Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, the only good news is that the outrage at Cecil's killing has brought £230,000 in donations – "enough to fund research for at least 18 months," a spokesman told The Times

Cecil the lion: why is the world so upset?

30 July

Outrage over the lion killed at the hands of US dentist Walter Palmer is yet to subside.

Celebrities including Judd Apatow, Cara Delevingne and Ricky Gervais have expressed their disgust after Palmer allegedly paid £35,000 to shoot the animal, which turned out to be a Zimbabwean star attraction named Cecil.

The 13-year-old lion was reportedly lured out of Hwange National Park, shot with a crossbow and tracked for 40 hours before he was finished off with a bullet, skinned and beheaded.

Talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel nearly broke down in tears about Cecil's death on Tuesday, while Piers Morgan has written a detailed account of how he would like to skin and stuff Palmer and mount his head on his office wall.

More than 700,000 people have signed a Justice for Cecil petition, calling on Zimbabwe to stop issuing hunting permits to kill endangered animals.

Amid the fury and death threats, Palmer – who insists he had no idea the hunt was illegal – has gone into hiding, abandoning his dental practice and taking his Facebook page offline.

But some commentators and members of the public have questioned why the world is so upset about one specific animal, when so many others have met a similar fate.

LBC presenter Nick Abbot pointed out the outrage does not extend to less charismatic but nevertheless endangered species, such as certain types of fish.

Documentary maker Louis Theroux grapples with the issue in a column in The Independent.

"As a meat-eater and a participant in a food supply chain that involves practices that are too hideous to bear thinking about (eg the mass grinding up of baby chicks – you can watch it on YouTube if you're in the mood) I'm aware that any criticism I might make of hunting runs the risk of being massively hypocritical," he says.

But Theroux argues there are just so many details in the Cecil case that rub him the wrong way, from the "laundry list" of animals on Palmer's kill list to the fact that Cecil was wearing a GPS tag when he was killed.

"While a little part of me feels for Walter Palmer, as he's tracked and pursued through his own 40 hours of hell, the greater part of me mourns Cecil," concludes Theroux.

Dr Ernest Small, a specialist in biodiversity, explains that most humans are much more sympathetic to "a select number of well-known and admired species". Animals with size, glamour, charisma and human-like qualities on their side are more likely to win human empathy, while the majority of the world's species tend to be ignored.

"You can't get much more charismatic than a lion," Small tells ThinkProgress. "Here we are as humans getting very excited about charismatic animals. We never think about all the pain we cause to billions of sentient creatures."

Small says "selective outrage" is human nature and we need not "suppress" our empathy towards animals such as Cecil. However, he adds that we could "moderate our prejudices with understanding for the value of all species, for the long-term welfare of humanity and our planet".

Cecil the lion's killer revealed as US dentist Walter Palmer

29 July

The hunter who shot Cecil, Zimbabwe's best-known lion, has been revealed as a dentist from Minnesota called Walter Palmer.

The 13-year-old lion, famed for his black mane, was said to have been lured out of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, where he had protected status. After being shot by a bow and arrow, he took 40 hours to die, and when he was finally put out of his misery with a rifle shot, he was skinned and beheaded.

Following a furious backlash on social media and an international hunt for Cecil's killer, Palmer has admitted that it might be him.

In a statement to The Guardian, he confirmed he had been in Zimbabwe and killed a lion on a bow hunting trip, but insisted that he had hired several professional guides who had secured the "proper" permits. "I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favourite, 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," he said.

Palmer said, to his knowledge, everything about the trip was legal and properly handled, but added that he was willing to cooperate with investigators. "I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity that I love and practise responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion," he said.

Two men - professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst and farm owner Honest Ndlovu - are due to appear in court in Zimbabwe later today after being charged with poaching offences. The pair could face up to 15 years in prison if it is proved that they failed to obtain the correct hunting permit before Cecil was killed, says the BBC.

Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force charity, said: "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. The hunters then found that the dead lion was wearing a tracking collar, which they unsuccessfully tried to hide."

Rodrigues added that the "saddest part of all" is that the next lion in the hierarchy, Jericho, will now most likely kill all of Cecil's cubs.

The lion's death has sparked outrage, with some people on Facebook calling for Palmer to be publicly shamed and jailed. More than 275,000 people have signed a petition demanding "justice for Cecil" and calling on Zimbabwe to stop issuing hunting permits to kill endangered animals. Small stuffed lions were last night left outside Palmer's home and dental office, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

According to the newspaper, Palmer's previous kills have included a polar bear and a mountain lion, and in 2008 he reportedly pleaded guilty to misleading a federal agent in connection with the hunting of a black bear.

Cecil the lion 'skinned and decapitated' - police hunt killer

27 July

An international hunt is underway to find the head of one of Zimbabwe's most famous lions, Cecil, who had been the star attraction at the Hwange national park the since late 2000s, and is thought to have been killed by a 'North American'. The police are also looking to arrest the hunter, who is believed to have paid £35,000 for the chance to kill a lion.

Cecil was shot with a bow and arrow then tracked for two days before being killed with a rifle, The Guardian reports. Bait had been used to draw the lion out of the national park, where he was protected, so that he could be killed "legally". Hunters then took his hide and head as trophies.

"Cecil's death is a tragedy, not only because he was a symbol of Zimbabwe but because now we have to give up for dead his six cubs, as a new male won't allow them to live so as to encourage Cecil's three females to mate," said the head of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, Johnny Rodrigues. "The two people who accompanied the hunter have been arrested but we haven't yet tracked down the hunter, who is Spanish."

Prior to his death, the 13-year-old lion had been fitted with a GPS collar and monitored for several years by a team from Oxford University. The team's study has been assessing the impact of hunting on lions living in the safari area surrounding Hwange national park since 1999.

As a tourist draw, Cecil contributed significantly more to Zimbabwe's economy than he did as a victim of hunting, Rodrigues told Vice news. "In tourism alone he can bring in $500,000 and $600,000" each year.

Initial reports had suggested that the hunter was Spanish and that police were trying to track down Cecil's remains among Spain's taxidermists. The Spanish conservation organisation Chelui4lions told the Guardian that it has appealed to the administration that controls the import of endangered animals to prevent anyone from importing Cecil's head as a trophy.

However, a Zimbabwean hunter told the Daily Telegraph that the man who shot Cecil was North American.

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