The discovery that Cecil, the star of Zimbabwe national park had been lured out and killed by American bow hunter Walter James Palmer has resulted in online anger and protests at his dental clinic.
Outside Zimbabwe’s environmental and activist circles, however, the reaction been muted.
“It’s so cruel, but I don’t understand the whole fuss, there are so many pressing issues in Zimbabwe — we have water shortages, no electricity, and no jobs — yet people are making noise about a lion?” said Eunice Vhunise, a Harare resident. “I saw Cecil once when I visited the game park. I will probably miss him. But honestly the attention is just too much.”
An economic meltdown over the past few years has closed many companies and left two-thirds of the population working in the informal economy while battling acute water and electricity shortages.
Most people questioned in downtown Harare hadn’t actually heard about the lion and said they were too busy trying to make a living to care about it.
One resident, however, noted that the lions were needed to bring in tourism and Palmer should be fined with the money going toward animal conservation.
“It’s very sad that the American chose to travel all the way to kill our animals,” Clinton Manyuchi said.
Palmer is believed to have shot the lion with a bow, and then the wounded cat was tracked for 40 hours before he was killed with a gun.
Zimbabwe authorities, however, have not announced any charges against Palmer, saying only that they want to speak with him, and the US embassy was not aware of any extradition requests.
Prosecutors have charged the hunter who supervised Palmer’s outing, Theo Bronkhorst, with killing a lion not authorized to be hunted. The country’s safari organization also said the way in which the lion was lured out of a national park was unethical and possibly illegal.
If convicted, Bronkhorst faces up to 15 years in prison.
Prosecutors have yet to charge a second suspect, farm owner Honest Ndlovu, who had been named as an accomplice and appeared in court Wednesday.
“We are still waiting for the state to charge him as no formal charges have yet to be laid against my client,” his lawyer Tonderai Mukuku told The Associated Press. “The Hwange office said it is liaising with the Harare office together with the police to come up with an appropriate charge. Maybe next week.”
According to the Zimbabwe Conservation task force, during the nighttime hunt, the Zimbabwean men tied a dead animal to their car to draw the lion out of a national park.
Using bait to lure the lion is deemed unethical by the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe, of which Bronkhorst is a member. The association has since revoked his license.
Cecil was being studied by an Oxford University research program.
Palmer, 55, wrote about the situation in a note to his patients. “I understand and respect that not everyone shares the same views on hunting,” he wrote in the letter, which added that he would “resume normal operations as soon as possible.”
Social media was filled with condemnation of the killing, and on Twitter the hashtag #cecilthelion was in wide use.
A couple of hundred protesters gathered Wednesday outside Palmer’s office with signs, including one that said, “Let the hunter be hunted!”
According to US court records, Palmer pleaded guilty in 2008 to making false statements to the US Fish and Wildlife Service about a black bear he fatally shot in western Wisconsin.
Cecil is believed to have been killed July 1 and his carcass discovered days later.