Walter Palmer, the American dentist thrust into the spotlight after killing the beloved ‘Cecil the lion,’ will no longer face charges, a Zimbabwe cabinet minister said Monday.
Environment minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri told reporters in Harare that Dr. Palmer had technically not violated any laws, as he had obtained legal permits to conduct the hunt.
In July, Ms. Muchinguri-Kashiri called for the Minnesota dentist to be extradited to Zimbabwe for poaching, reported The Christian Science Monitor. Reports said Palmer and his guide had lured the lion out of his habitat without legal permission and at night to be shot.
Palmer’s local guide, Theo Bronkhorst, and the game park owner have also been charged for allowing what officials said was an illegal $50,000 hunt.
Mr. Bronkhorst will appear in court on Thursday, where a judge will decide whether to drop the charges. Park officials said that prosecutors were planning to bring Cecil’s head to use as evidence in the trial.
Now, however, not only is Palmer cleared of all charges, but he is also allowed to return to Zimbabwe as a tourist.
Local conservationists immediately condemned the announcement, maintaining that Palmer, who is a lifelong hunter, had committed a crime and should be subject to legal action, if not in Zimbabwe then in the United States.
"The fact is the law was broken. We are going to get our advocates in America to actually see what they can do to bring justice to him," said Johnny Rodrigues, the head of the task force that first reported news of Cecil's killing.
Palmer has not responded to requests for comment, but he maintained his innocence in a previous statement:
"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. I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt," he said in July.
In the months since Cecil’s killing, Palmer has received death threats and calls from residents in his Bloomington, Minn., community to leave town. Reporters and protesters showed up at his work, forcing the dentist to close his practice over the summer and wait for the backlash to die down.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service said in July it was investigating Palmer’s Zimbabwe hunt, though it is not clear now whether the investigation is still ongoing.
This report contains material from The Associated Press and Reuters.