JOHANNESBURG – The Minnesota dentist who killed Cecil the Lion with a bow and arrow while hunting near an animal preserve broke no laws and will not face any charges in Zimbabwe, an official from the Robert Mugabe administration said Monday.
Walter Palmer drew international condemnation after shooting the beloved lion near Hwange National park in western Zimbabwe. Environment minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri said in July that Zimbabwean police and prosecutors planned to charge Palmer with poaching, but on Monday she told reporters in Harare that Palmer had not broken the southern African country's hunting laws and that police and the National Prosecuting Authority had cleared Palmer of wrongdoing.
"We approached the police and then the prosecutor general, and it turned out that Palmer came to Zimbabwe [legally] because all the papers were in order," Muchinguri-Kashiri said.
Authorities initially suspected Palmer had entered the country on a tourist visa, and they contacted police first, and then the country’s prosecutor-general to investigate the American amateur hunter. Hunting is not permitted if the person entering Zimbabwe only has a tourist visa. But Palmer turned out to have had the correct permits to kill Cecil with his bow and arrow.
Environmentalists from all around the world expressed outrage in July when Palmer killed the black-maned lion, who was a prized, but aged head of a pride in the park. Within days the Zimbabwean government was calling for Palmer to be extradited from the U.S. to stand trial in Africa.
Palmer went into hiding and his Bloomington, Minn., dental practice closed for weeks as hate messages and threats mounted.
When he re-opened his offices, he said he would not have killed Cecil if he had known he was such a celebrated lion.
Charges against two Zimbabwean hunters who helped Palmer kill Cecil have not been dropped. They’ve been accused of luring Cecil out of the national park, where hunting is forbidden, and onto private land where he could be killed. But one of them, who is the owner of the land where the first arrow was shot by Palmer, has also been charged with staging an illegal hunt, as Zimbabwean authorities have questioned whether he had a permit for a lion to be killed on this land. Their lawyers will argue in court Thursday that charges should be dropped.
Neither Palmer nor Joe Friedberg, a prominent Minneapolis attorney who advised Palmer, could be reached for comment.
Paul Tilsley is a freelance reporter/ producer for Fox News, based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Follow his African stories @paultilsley