Cecil the lion: Guide who helped US dentist Walter Palmer slaughter big cat may only get £260 fine
The guide who helped an American dentist slaughter Cecil the lion may only face a maximum £260 fine or a year in prison if they are convicted of his illegal killing, reports Matthew Drake from Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
A lawyer acting for the guide hired by American dentist Walter Palmer revealed the shocking penalties after claiming to have conclusive evidence the rare black-maned beast was lawfully shot.
He also insists there is no charge under Zimbabwean law that could be used to bring Dr Palmer to trial if he was extradited back to Africa.
Mr Givemore Mvhiringi, the defence lawyer for hunt handler Theo Bronkhorst, said: “Under the law he can only get a fine of $400 (£260) or one year in prison.
“There is no point bringing Walter Palmer back to Zimbabwe because there is no charge I can find under the law that can be brought against him.
“He would not be tried under the same charges as Mr Bronkhorst.”
Mr Mvhiringi insisted that despite claims by Zimbabwe’s National Park Authority his client had broken several rules, the hunter acted within the current law.
However, other reports have suggested that Dr Palmer could face penalties as severe as a five year jail term and a $20,000 (£12,900) fine for breaching the Lacey Act, which enforces legal protection for endangered species around the world.
Speaking for the first time, Mr Mvhiringi said: “Our line of defence is that Mr Bronkhorst is innocent and he has all the necessary paperwork to prove it.
“We asked for the postponement of the case so we can put our defence together. We have to be sure of matters for the interests of our client.”
The paltry sentences are likely to fuel fury towards Dr Palmer who has been in hiding since reports of Cecil’s crossbow death broke last month.
Campaigners have protested outside his dentist surgery while he has even received death threats amid growing anger over the protected animal’s execution.
Tributes to the butchered lion have poured in thousands of miles away at his office in Bloomington, Minnesota, where protesters dressed as “dentist hunters” also threw stuffed lions at his house.
Speaking at Dube and Company offices in Victoria Falls, the respected lawyer revealed how the National Parks Authority have secretly handed his client a $20,000 compensation bill for Cecil.
He said: “The National Parks have written to Mr Bronkhorst asking for compensation of $20,000. That is not joking money in Zimbabwe.
“His reputation is at stake and his livelihood. At the moment he is in a bad place but this should get better in a month or so when we go to court.
“At the moment Mr Bronkhorst has the police able to come to him at any time of day. They have been through his house, his documents and his trophies.”
Mr Mvhiringi claimed that while the National Parks Authority argue certain rules were broken, these are simply not stated in law.
He said: “He will be prosecuted by local prosecutors. All the other cases like this have never been reported, it is only in this case because it is Cecil. If it was any other lion none of this would have happened. They acted within the law.”
The magnificent 13-year-old beast was shot with a compound crossbow by Dr Palmer, who paid £35,000 to shoot the lion and return him to America as a trophy after luring him off the government-protected land at Hwange National park.
The dentist has admitted killing the predator, who was fitted with a Global Positioning System collar as part of the Oxford University study.
But he said in a statement he had hired professional guides and believed all the necessary hunting permits were in order.
He has not been sighted since his identity was revealed by Zimbabwean conservationists.
Zimbabwe has received worldwide backing after renewing calls for Dr Palmer to be extradited from the United States after accusing him of killing the much-loved animal illegally.
Mr Mvhiringi said that Dr Palmer would be better off being extradited after the hate mob blew up against him in his hometown of Minnesota.
He said; “Mr Palmer would be more of a free man in Zimbabwe than he currently is in America. There is much sympathy here for the dentist in Zimbabwe.”
Environment minister Oppah Muchinguri said he should be handed over to Zimbabwean officials to face justice and that prosecutors had started the legal process to make that happen.
Referring to the 55-year-old trophy hunter as a “foreign poacher”, she said: “We are appealing to the responsible authorities for his extradition to Zimbabwe so that he can be made accountable for his illegal actions.”
Muchinguri also said Palmer’s use of a bow and arrow to kill the lion was in contravention of Zimbabwean hunting regulations.
Mr Bronkhorst and Honest Ndlovu appeared in court last week charged with poaching offences.
It came as it emerged that one of Cecil’s last eight cubs has been killed by another male who attempted to mate with its mother.
Wildlife experts at Hwange National Park fear that the remaining cubs in the pride, led by three lionesses, could have just days left to live.
They warn that the trophy shooting of Cecil could trigger a “cascade of deaths” as cubs are typically killed by the next lion in the hierarchy so he could father his own offspring with the females in the pride.
Local guides had given the pride - who have been abandoned by Cecil’s friend Jericho – just a five per cent chance of survival after solitary males were spotted prowling nearby.
The pack has fled their former den at Ngweshla and have been hiding behind a water pan known as Kennedy Two.
A source said the female had been forced to stay on the run to avoid the advances of intruding males but warned that the cubs would struggle to keep up.