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The hunter has become the hunted.

Walter Palmer, left, is pictured with a dead lion in 2008, that is not Cecil. (Trophy Hunt America)

Walter Palmer, left, is pictured with a dead lion in 2008, that is not Cecil. (Trophy Hunt America)

Walter James Palmer, a dentist from Eden Prairie Minn., has been named by Zimbabwean officials as the hunter who killed one of the nations most famous and beloved animals, Cecil the lion of Hwange National Park; prompting a ferocious worldwide social media backlash including insults, yelp reviews, death threats, and doxxing.[1]

The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force stated that Palmer paid at least $50,000 to track and kill the animal.[2]  However, as new details emerge many argue that Palmer bribed Theo Bronkhorst, the founder of Bushman Safaris, and private game park owner Honest Ndlovu, to lure Cecil out of the park’s boundaries where Palmer could kill him on Ndlovu’s land.[3]  Cecil was a protected lion who was fitted with a GPS collar and tracked by the Oxford University research program since 1999.[4]

Johnny Rodrigues, a spokesman for the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force explained, “They tied a dead animal to their vehicle to lure Cecil out of the park and they scented an area about half a kilometer from the park.”[5]  Rodrigues then stated that Palmer first shot Cecil with a crossbow, but it did not kill him. The three men then “tracked him down and found him 40 hours later” and shot him with a rifle, Rodrigues said.[6]  The men then skinned him and beheaded him.[7]

As people around the world demand justice (a petition to the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, to stop issuing hunting permits for endangered animals had 535,691 signatures as of 5:50 on July 29)[8] the question becomes, will the three men have legal repercussions for their misdeeds?

A combination photo shows landowner Honest Ndlovu (R) and hunter Theo Bronkhorst waiting to appear in Hwange magistrates court, July 29, 2015.  (Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo)

A combination photo shows landowner Honest Ndlovu (R) and hunter Theo Bronkhorst waiting to appear in Hwange magistrates court, July 29, 2015.  (Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo)

The answer is ‘yes’ for both Bronkhorst and Ndlovu. “Ongoing investigations to date, suggest that the killing of the lion was illegal since the land owner was not allocated a lion on his hunting quota for 2015,” the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority said in a statement.[9] “Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management as the Regulatory Authority and custodian of all wild animals in Zimbabwe issues hunting permits and hunting quota for all hunting areas in Zimbabwe so that only animals on quota are to be hunted. In this case, both the professional hunter and land owner had no permit or quota to justify the off-take of the lion and therefore are liable for the illegal hunt.”[10]

The two Zimbabweans arrived in court on Wednesday to face poaching charges.[11] Bronkhorst was charged with an illegal hunt, and was granted $1,000 bail.[12]  Ndlovu was charged with allowing a legal hunt on his land and was also bailed.[13] If convicted the men face up to 15 years in prison.[14]

Palmer, whose whereabouts are unknown, has not been charged by Zimbabwean authorities explaining, “I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt.”[15] Palmer further stated that, “he had not been contacted by authorities but would work with them.”[16]  This does not mean however, that Palmer could not be prosecuted for his involvement.

Initially one may argue that Palmer has violated the Endangered Species Act, a federal law which prohibits “with respect to any endangered species of fish or wildlife” the “take (wound or kill) of any such species within the United States or the territorial sea of the United States.”[17]  However, because Palmer killed Cecil outside of the United States he has not violated the Act.  Furthermore, the United States does not consider the African lion to be endangered or threatened.[18]  With the declining number of lions there has been a proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to revise the lion’s status to list it as threatened; a final decision is expected in October.[19]

A second argument (with more staying power) is that Palmer could be charged under a federal law called The Travel Act for allegedly bribing Bronkhorst and Ndlovu with his $55,000 payment to illegally hunt Cecil. The Act makes it a crime to travel either interstate or to a foreign land with the intent to use “unlawful activity” such as “bribery” in “violation of the laws of the State in which committed or of the United States.”[20]  Here, if Palmer travelled to Zimbabwe knowing that he would pay the two men to lure Cecil off the protected park grounds in order to kill him (in an area without an issued permit) he could be found guilty of the unlawful activity of bribery and perhaps be tried in the United States.  Although one cannot be sure about Palmer’s intent, he has been in trouble for lying about the area in which he has killed an animal before.  In 2008 Palmer agreed to plead guilty for lying to a federal agent about where he shot a black bear in Wisconsin.[21] He received probation and was fined $3,000.[22]

A third argument is to have Palmer extradited to Zimbabwe and charged there.  The United States and Zimbabwe have an extradition treaty, which has a “dual criminality” clause defining, “an extraditable offense as one punishable under the laws of both Contracting States by deprivation of liberty for a period of more than one year or by a more severe penalty.”[23] This means that if an American, who is in Zimbabwe, commits an act that is illegal in both Zimbabwe and America, and the act is punishable by more than a year in prison, that person may be extradited to Zimbabwe. Because bribery in Zimbabwe is a crime that carries a punishment of “imprisonment for a period not exceeding twenty years,”[24] and a violation of The Travel Act is punishable by not more than “five years in prison,”[25] the dual criminality clause applies and Palmer could be extradited to Zimbabwe to answer for his crimes.

Either way, there is a good chance the King of the Jungle may get his revenge.

Last photograph of Cecil with his pack friend Jericho (standing) a month before he was killed. (Reuters)

[1]  The hunting of Walter Palmer: Internet goes after “lion killer” US dentist, RT (July 29, 2015, 9:48 AM), http://www.rt.com/usa/311002-dentist-lion-internet-hunt/.
[2]  George Petras, Minnesota dentist ‘deeply’ regrets ‘taking’ Cecil the lion, USA TODAY (July 29, 2015, 5:32 PM), http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2015/07/28/minnesota-dentist-walter-james-palmer-cecil-lion-africa/30785881/.
[3]  Tom Cleary, Theo Bronkhorst: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know, Heavy (July 28, 2015, 9:48 PM), http://heavy.com/news/2015/07/theo-bronkhorst-zimbabwe-hunter-cecil-the-lion-dead-killed-walter-palmer-minnesota-dentist-arrested-charged-photos-bushman-safaris-son-zane-wife-illegal-hunting-honest-trymore-ndlovu/.
[4]  George Petras, Minnesota dentist ‘deeply’ regrets ‘taking’ Cecil the lion, USA TODAY (July 29, 2015, 5:32 PM), http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2015/07/28/minnesota-dentist-walter-james-palmer-cecil-lion-africa/30785881/.
[5]  Id.
[6]  Tom Cleary, Theo Bronkhorst: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know, Heavy (July 28, 2015, 9:48 PM), http://heavy.com/news/2015/07/theo-bronkhorst-zimbabwe-hunter-cecil-the-lion-dead-killed-walter-palmer-minnesota-dentist-arrested-charged-photos-bushman-safaris-son-zane-wife-illegal-hunting-honest-trymore-ndlovu/.
[7]  Ruth McD, “Demand Justice For Cecil the Lion In Zimbabwe,” Care2Petitions, http://www.thepetitionsite.com/821/738/351/demand-justice-for-cecil-the-lion-in-zimbambwe/?taf_id=14125969&cid=fb_na.
[8]  Id.
[9]  Tom Cleary, Theo Bronkhorst: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know, Heavy (July 28, 2015, 9:48 PM), http://heavy.com/news/2015/07/theo-bronkhorst-zimbabwe-hunter-cecil-the-lion-dead-killed-walter-palmer-minnesota-dentist-arrested-charged-photos-bushman-safaris-son-zane-wife-illegal-hunting-honest-trymore-ndlovu/.
[10]  Id.
[11]  Philimon Bulawayo and Mike Saburi, Zimbabwean duo on court over killing of Cecil the lion, REUTERS (July 29, 2015, 10:22AM), http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/07/29/us-zimbabwe-wildlife-lion-idUSKCN0Q317J20150729?utm_source=twitter.
[12]  Harriet Alexander, Zimbabwean hunter and farmer bailed over killing Cecil the lion, The Telegraph (July 29, 2015, 6:01 PM), http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/zimbabwe/11769842/Cecil-the-lion-Zimbabwean-hunter-and-farmer-appear-in-court.html.
[13]  Id.
[14]  Id.
[15]  George Petras, Minnesota dentist ‘deeply’ regrets ‘taking’ Cecil the lion, USA TODAY (July 29, 2015, 5:32 PM), http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2015/07/28/minnesota-dentist-walter-james-palmer-cecil-lion-africa/30785881/.
[16]  Id.
[17]  Endangered Species Act § 9(B), 16 U.S.C. § 1531-1544 (1973).
[18]  Mark Joseph Stern, The Alleged Lion Killer Could Be Tried in the U.S., The Slatest (July 28, 2015, 2:16 PM), http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/07/28/walter_palmer_alleged_lion_killer_he_can_be_tried_in_the_u_s_or_extradited.html.
[19]  Id.
[20]  The Travel Act § 95(a), (b)(1), 18 U.S.C. § 1952
[21]  George Petras, Minnesota dentist ‘deeply’ regrets ‘taking’ Cecil the lion, USA TODAY (July 29, 2015, 5:32 PM), http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2015/07/28/minnesota-dentist-walter-james-palmer-cecil-lion-africa/30785881/.
[22]  Id.
[23]  Mark Joseph Stern, The Alleged Lion Killer Could Be Tried in the U.S., The Slatest (July 28, 2015, 2:16 PM), http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/07/28/walter_palmer_alleged_lion_killer_he_can_be_tried_in_the_u_s_or_extradited.html.
[24]  Id.
[25]  The Travel Act § 95(a)(3)(A), 18 U.S.C. § 1952

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