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Zimbabwe: American being sought for lion poaching

Farai Mutsaka
Associated Press

Harare, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwean police said Tuesday they are searching for an American who allegedly shot a well-known, protected lion known as Cecil with a crossbow in a killing that has outraged conservationists and others.

Authorities on Tuesday said two Zimbabwean men will appear in court for allegedly helping lure the lion outside of its protected area to kill it. The American faces poaching charges, according to police spokeswoman Charity Charamba.

The American allegedly paid $50,000 to hunt the lion, Zimbabwean conservationists said, though the hunter and is local partners maintain they didn’t know the lion they killed was protected.

Walter James Palmer was identified on Tuesday by both the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force and the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe as the American hunter.

“We arrested two people and now we are looking for Palmer in connection with the same case,” Charamba said.

Palmer, an avid Minnesota hunter, said Tuesday that he thought everything about his trip was legal and wasn’t aware of the animal’s status “until the end of the hunt.” Palmer, who has a felony record in the U.S. related to shooting a black bear in Wisconsin, said he hasn’t heard from U.S. or Zimbabwean authorities.

“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,” said Palmer, a dentist who lives in the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie.

According to U.S. court records, Palmer pleaded guilty in 2008 to making false statements to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about a black bear he fatally shot in western Wisconsin. Palmer had a permit to hunt but shot the animal outside the authorized zone in 2006, then tried to pass it off as being killed elsewhere, according to court documents. He was given one year probation and fined nearly $3,000.

The two arrested Zimbabwean men — a professional hunter and a farm owner — face poaching charges, the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority and the Safari Operators Association said in a joint statement. Killing the lion was illegal because the farm owner did not have a hunting permit, the joint statement said. The lion was skinned and beheaded. The hunters tried to destroy the lion’s collar, fitted with a tracking device, but failed, the statement said.

If convicted, the men face up to 15 years in prison.