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United States, uproar over death of protected animal forces Walter Palmer’s practice to close, as hunter and landowner prepare to appear in Zimbabwean court

walterpalmerThere are mounting calls for the prosecution of an American dentist who shot dead one of Africa’s most famous lions, as two other men involved in the hunt prepare to appear in court in Zimbabwe on Wednesday.

Walter Palmer, who runs a dental practice in Minnesota and hunts big game in his spare time, is accused of illegally killing Cecil , a protected lion, in Zimbabwe on a $50,000 (£32,000) hunt.

Two men thought to have accompanied Palmer on the hunt, professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst, and Honest Ndlovu, a local landowner, will appear in court in Victoria Falls to face poaching charges.

Cecil, a popular attraction among international visitors to Hwange national park, was lured outside the reserve’s boundaries by bait and killed earlier this month.

“Both the professional hunter and land owner had no permit or quota to justify the offtake of the lion and therefore are liable for the illegal hunt,” the Zimbabwean parks authority said in a statement on Tuesday.

The statement made no mention of Palmer. But the charity Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said Palmer and Bronkhorst had gone out at night with a spotlight and tied a dead animal to their vehicle to lure Cecil into range.

In a statement to the Guardian, Palmer confirmed he had been in Zimbabwe in early July on a bow-hunting trip. “To my knowledge, everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted,” he said.

He is facing angry calls in the US for his prosecution.

Former speaker of the US House of Representatives Newt Gringrich tweeted that Palmer should be jailed.

Betty McCollum, a Republican member of Congress who represents Minnesota, called on the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Justice to investigate whether the killing violated endangered species laws, according to the local Star Tribune .

Protesters placed animal toys outside Palmer’s River Duff dental practice in Bloomington, a suburb of Minneapolis. The practice was forced to close due to the uproar over the incident. Two protesters staged a recreation of the hunt involving cuddly toys and water pistols.

Safari operators said Cecil, aged about 13, was an “iconic” animal who was recognised by many visitors to Hwange due to his distinctive black mane.

“A lot of people travel long distances coming to Zimbabwe to enjoy our wildlife and obviously the absence of Cecil is a disaster,” Emmanuel Fundira, president of the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe, told reporters in the capital, Harare.

Palmer’s Twitter and Facebook accounts and website of his dental practice were all closed after being overwhelmed with criticism.
Comedian Ricky Gervais , boxer Lennox Lewis and writer Neil Gaiman were among those expressing disgust.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2015

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