After discovering Zimbabwe’s beloved black-maned lion Cecil had been shot and killed by Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer, Zimbabwe officials called for Palmer to be extradited and said others involved in the hunt would be “made accountable” for their illegal actions.
More than a year later, Palmer has been cleared, and now a Zimbabwe court has agreed to drop charges against Theo Bronkhorst—the professional hunter who is said to have charged Palmer $50,000 to hunt Cecil in July 2015.
Bronkhorst’s lawyer Perpetua Dube told South African news site News24 that the charges against his client were too vague to enable the defense to properly mount a defense.
“There was no full trial, but the [high court] judge has decided that the charges as they were brought at that time were not properly constituted,” Dube said. “He’s agreed with us on that point, and that is all there is to it.”
Bronkhorst arranged the hunt for Palmer, who shot Cecil with a bow in a field just outside the Hwange National Park boundaries. The team tracked the wounded lion for another 11 hours before killing him.
Zimbabwe environment minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri initially called for Palmer to be extradited to Zimbabwe and brought charges against Bronkhorst for not obtaining the right permits to hunt in the country.
The death of one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions drew the ire of the international conservation community and sparked a backlash against the big game hunting industry in Africa. While Cecil’s killers may avoid legal punishment, the lion’s death has had huge consequences on the big game trophy hunting industry.
Prior to Cecil, hundreds of lions had been killed in Zimbabwe and across Africa through big game hunting, but most of the killings had gone unnoticed. An estimated 20,000 lions remain in all of Africa—down from half a million that roamed 200 years ago—and research suggests the number could be halved in another 20 years.
But Cecil’s unique story and his controversial death galvanized the conservation community into action.
“I’ve never seen any sort of animal issue resonate like this before,” Beth Allgood, campaigns director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told TakePart last year.
Over the past year, U.S. federal officials have put lions under stricter conservation protections, multiple airlines have banned the transport of lion trophies aboard their planes, and several countries have restricted the import of lion trophies.