The man who was paid $50,000 to lure Cecil the lion out of a wildlife preserve so that the animal could be killed by American dentist Walter Palmer claims he did nothing wrong, according to NBC News.
Theo Bronkhorst, 55, a professional Zimbabwean hunter, pleaded not guilty last week on a charge of failing to prevent an illegal hunt, the Associated Press reported. He was released on $1,000 bail and is due back in court Wednesday, according to NBC.
He regrets targeting the iconic lion, but insists that his was a legal operation.
“I do not feel I have done anything wrong,” Bronkhorst told NBC via telephone. “This has been a very stressful time for me and my family. We have been pulled into something we are not happy with.”
Bronkhorst has defended Palmer’s role in Cecil’s death, telling Agence France-Presse that he and the Minnesota dentist obtained multiple permits for killing a lion using a bow and arrow. Bronkhorst noted that the pair decided to kill an old male lion that they believed to be past breeding age and said Palmer “is a totally innocent party to this whole thing,” having “bought a hunt from me that was legitimate.”
Bronkhorst — who said he grew up hunting and considers the practice a part of Zimbabwean culture, one that is essential for conservation — said his family has received death threats and that his business has been forever damaged.
“I sincerely regret taking such a magnificent animal that happened to be an icon that I didn’t even know existed,” he said.
Palmer has admitted to killing the animal and expressed regrets over hunting “a known, local favorite.” Zimbabwean officials have called for Palmer’s extradition to be tried.
In Zimbabwe, the illegal killing of a lion is punishable by a mandatory fine of $20,000 and up to 10 years in prison, according to NBC. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also investigating the incident.
Bronkhorst told AFP that he and Palmer “had done everything above-board,” adding: “I don’t foresee any jail sentence at all, I think it’s been blown out of proportion by social media and I think it’s been a deliberate ploy to ban all hunting and especially lion hunting in Zimbabwe.”
The professional hunter is not the only Zimbabwean disputing government allegations that he assisted in an illegal hunt in recent months.
Headman Sibanda, a Zimbabwean landowner who runs Nyala Safaris, has been accused of “breaching hunting regulations” for assisting Jan Seski, 68 — a gynecologic oncologist and surgeon who practices in the Pittsburgh area — in illegally killing a lion in April, according to a statement posted on the Zimbabwe’s National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority’s Web site. The authority claims Sibanda was arrested and is assisting police with their investigation.
The authority said Seski killed the lion — without approval — with a bow and arrow on land where it was not allowed, near Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, according to the Associated Press.
The deaths of both lions have sparked international outrage and forced both Palmer and Seski to go into hiding as death threats mount and their professional lives are put on hold.
But in a telephone interview with the AP on Monday, Sibanda denied the parks authority’s claims, telling a reporter that he has not been arrested and the proper paperwork was in place for hunting a lion.
Sibanda also defended Seski and said that the American hunter did not break any laws.
“He conducted his hunt in good faith and now he is being treated as if he is some criminal,” Sibanda said. “He is an honest man who came into this country to give us business. He doesn’t deserve all this attention and harassment. He should be allowed to have a good night’s sleep because his conscience should be clear. Everything was done aboveboard.”
MORE READING: Zimbabwe wants Cecil the lion’s killer extradited