Will Walter Palmer be prosecuted for killing Cecil the lion?

American dentist Walter Palmer has been widely criticized for killing a well-known, protected lion in Zimbabwe. 

Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune/AP
Lions and other stuffed animals are placed in front of Walter Palmer's dental practice, River Bluff Dental, in Bloomington, Minn., on Wednesday, July 29, 2015.

What happens when a hunter pays for a safari abroad and ends up illegally killing a protected animal? With no legal precedent, it's hard to predict.

Walter Palmer, the Minnesota man who is accused of fatally shooting a well known Zimbabwean lion, is now facing growing calls for his prosecution. Meanwhile, two others involved in the case appeared in a Zimbabwe court Wednesday facing poaching charges.

Zimbabwean police spokeswoman Charity Charamba says Mr. Palmer will also face poaching charges, the Associated Press reports.   

Palmer, an avid hunter who runs a dental practice in Minnesota, is accused of illegally killing Cecil on a $50,000 hunt.

According to the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst and local landowner Honest Ndlovu accompanied Palmer in hunting Cecil, a popular attraction at the Hwange national park, earlier this month. The group tied an animal carcass to a car and drove outside the reserve’s boundaries to lure Cecil before Palmer struck him with an arrow, then fatally shot him with a firearm. 

The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, which protects all of Zimbabwe’s wild animals and issues hunting permits and quota for its hunting areas, announced the locals’ charges in a joint statement with the Safari Operators Association on Tuesday.   

"Ongoing investigations ... suggest that the killing of the lion was illegal since the land owner was not allocated a lion on his hunting quota for 2015," the statement says.

"In this case, 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."

If convicted, Mr. Bronkhorst and Mr. Ndlovu face up to 15 years in prison, the Associated Press reported. Yet Palmer’s fate has yet to be determined.

According to Lion Aid, a charity that focuses on lion preservation, Cecil’s death was for the most part legal and standard practice. And usually, if a killing takes place in an area without a lion quota, the hunter would just lie and say it happened in an area with a lion quota, according to Lion Aid’s website.

But thanks to Cecil’s tracking collar, which traced his movements for an Oxford University research project, the hunters couldn’t cover up their whereabouts.

In a statement published Tuesday, Palmer said that to his knowledge, the hunt was completely legal. "I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt," he added.

The Animal Rights Coalition is now organizing a demonstration near Palmer’s dentist office late Wednesday afternoon to protest Cecil’s death "along with the many other ‘big game’ animals killed by [Palmer]," the organization announced on Facebook.

"Please join us for this peaceful protest, letting customers of this business know what their dollars are supporting," the statement read. 

Palmer’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, along with his dental practice’s website, have shut down since he was identified. He expressed his remorse for the murder in a public statement Tuesday.

"I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion," he wrote. 

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