The killers of Cecil the beloved Zimbabwean lion could face up to 15 years in jail

Zimbabwean hunter Theo Bronkhorst waits to appear in court.
Zimbabwean hunter Theo Bronkhorst waits to appear in court.
Image: Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo
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The killing of Cecil, a protected Zimbabwean lion, by an American dentist, has inspired worldwide anger and disgust. And now it looks like someone—albeit not the dentist—is going to pay.

Zimbabwean authorities have arrested two men over the killing: Theo Bronkhorst, a hunter, and Honest Ndlovu, a farm owner, who were charged with poaching after allegedly hunting without a proper permit. Bronkhorst appeared in court today and was bailed.

“In this case, both the professional hunter and land owner had no permit or quota to justify the offtake [sic] of the lion and therefore are liable for the illegal hunt,” said a joint statement by local authorities. The statement says they also want to talk to Bronkhorst’s son, Zane, himself a licensed hunter too.

News of Cecil’s killing broke in mid-July, but the involvement of Walter Palmer, a Minnesota dentist, came to light only yesterday. Palmer, who reportedly spent over $50,000 on the hunt, says he relied on his guides to obtain all the necessary permits. Meanwhile, Bronkhorst, who accompanied Palmer in the hunt, claimed ignorance of Cecil’s fame and importance in Zimbabwe. He told Britain’s The Telegraph that, “we did not know it was a well-known lion. I had a licence for my client to shoot a lion with a bow and arrow in the area where it was shot.”

If convicted, Bronkhorst and Ndlovu could face 15 years in prison. There are conflicting reports as to whether Palmer, who has left Zimbabwe, could be charged; the BBC and Guardian say he could be, while NBC reports that Zimbabwean police want to question him, but haven’t talked about charges. At any rate, Zimbabwe would have to extradite him, and then make the poaching charges stick against his defense that he had entrusted his local guides with getting the permits.