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Zimbabwe charges farmer over killing of Cecil the lion, but not American dentist

Zimbabwean local landowner Honest Ndlovu arrives at the Prosecutor’s office at the Magistrate’s Court in Hwange on July 29 for a hearing in proceedings on poaching charges.(Zinyange Auntony/AFP/Getty Images)

Zimbabwe has charged a second man in connection to the killing of Cecil the lion, but his name is not Walter Palmer.

Prosecutors on Tuesday accused Zimbabwean farmer Honest Ndlovu of allowing the American dentist to hunt Cecil on his land without the required permission, the Associated Press reported.

He faces one year in prison or a $400 fine, his attorney, Tonderai Mukuku, told the AP.

Ndlovu is the second Zimbabwean charged in the case after professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst was arraigned on July 29.

Officials believe Bronkhorst lured the aging lion out of Hwange National Park and onto Ndlovu’s Antoinette Farm, which is separated from the protected park by only a railway track. Once Cecil was on the farmland, Palmer allegedly shot the animal with a bow and arrow before later finishing him off by gunshot. The lion was then beheaded and skinned.

Africa’s lion population has shrunk by 82 percent over the past century, according to the AP. As a result, countries like Zimbabwe have instituted a quota system capping the number of lions that can be killed per year.

“Only animals on quota are to be hunted,” the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority said in a statement. “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.”

[The death of Cecil the lion and the big business of big game trophy hunting]

Ndlovu was not initially charged because parks officials said he would first testify for the state, Reuters reported.

He was granted $200 bail on Tuesday and is set to reappear in court on Sept. 18, according to the AP. It is unclear if Ndlovu has entered a plea.

Bronkhorst, already free on bail, pleaded not guilty on July 29 to failing to prevent an illegal hunt. He has claimed he acted legally.

“I do not feel I have done anything wrong,” Bronkhorst told NBC. “This has been a very stressful time for me and my family. We have been pulled into something we are not happy with.”

Not charged: Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who has admitted killing Cecil.

Palmer, who left Zimbabwe and is reportedly in hiding, has said that “I deeply regret” having killed “a known, local favorite” and that he may have been misled by Bronkhorst and Ndlovu.

“I hired several professional guides, and they secured all proper permits,” Palmer said in a statement to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “To my knowledge, everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted.”

“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. “I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt. I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion.”

Zimbabwean officials have delivered mixed messages on their plans to charge the dentist, whose Minnesota practice officially reopened (without Palmer) on Monday.

“We’ll see how it plays out,” Caroline Washaya-Moyo, a spokeswoman for the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, told The Washington Post on July 28. She said professional hunters and land owners typically first face charges in such cases.

Zimbabwe’s environment, water and climate minister, Oppah Muchinguri, however, has said Palmer should be extradited for killing Cecil.

But the National Prosecuting Authority, which handles extradition requests, told the AP on Tuesday that police have not supplied the required documentation for charging Palmer. Police declined to comment to the AP on possible charges against the dentist.

Although Ndlovu has been charged in connection with Cecil’s killing, he appears to be facing less heated criticism in Zimbabwe than Palmer is in the United States, where the dentist has has faced ridicule, protests and even vandalism.

[‘Lion Killer!’: Vandals target vacation home of American dentist who killed Cecil the lion]

“It is no accident that one of the two men who accompanied the dentist on the safari, and who have now been arrested, was a farmer,” Nash Jenkins wrote in the Zimbabwean newspaper the Standard. “State wildlife officials claim that Honest Trymore Ndlovu helped to lure the lion off the wildlife reserve and onto his property, Antoinette Farm, where the beast was killed.

“Why would he do such a thing? Perhaps because he is a farmer in a country where agriculture is an industry of destitution. Zimbabwe was once celebrated as the ‘breadbasket of Africa,’ whose fertile earth supplied the world with abundant tobacco, corn and wheat.

“Today, 76% of its rural population lives in abject poverty, dependent on foreign food aid and desperate measures — like the poaching of the wildlife that inhabits its otherwise barren lands, or rendering assistance to those who want to hunt or poach.”

Such a defense is unlikely, however, to help Ndlovu in court, which has been criticized by Human Rights Watch as beholden to President Robert Mugabe.