Zimbabwe will not charge American dentist Walter Palmer for killing a prized lion in July because he had obtained legal authority to conduct the hunt, a cabinet minister said on Monday.
Palmer, a lifelong big-game hunter from Minnesota, sparked a global controversy when he killed Cecil, a rare black-maned lion, outside Hwange National Park in Western Zimbabwe this summer. Cecil was a prized attraction at the park and was being closely studied as part of a research project on endangered lions.
Zimbabwe had previously called for Palmer's extradition for the killing of Cecil, but on Monday Environment Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri said Palmer could not be charged since he had the requisite hunting permits.
"We approached the police and then the prosecutor general, and it turned out that Palmer came to Zimbabwe because all the papers were in order," Muchinguri-Kashiri told reporters.
Almost immediately after authorities released the identity of Cecil's killer, Palmer became the subject of international outrage. He took a two-month hiatus from work after animal activists and vigilantes directed a wave of threats and vitriol at his office, family, and home.
Palmer admitted he had killed Cecil but was quick to apologize, saying that no one in the hunting party realized the targeted lion was Cecil, a well-known tourist attraction in the park.
Big game hunting has long been a controversial practice, with many opponents criticizing the practice for further endangering rare and prized animals.
Muchinguri-Kashiri, said that Palmer is free to visit Zimbabwe as a tourist but not as a hunter, since he will be denied the necessary hunting permits.
Two more people still face charges related to Cecil's killing. Both allegedly were involved in using bait to lure Cecil out of his habitat in Hwange National Park so he could be killed.
Theo Bronkhorst, a professional hunter in Zimbabwe, is charged with breaching hunting rules in connection with the hunt in which Cecil was killed. A game park owner is also charged with allowing an illegal hunt. Both have denied the charges.
Bronkhorst is expected to appear in a Hwange court on Thursday where a magistrate will rule on a request by his lawyers that his indictment be dismissed.
Palmer could not be reached immediately for comment on the environment minister's statement to reporters.
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