After the hunting and slaying of Zimbabwe's beloved 13-year-old lion, Cecil, two local men are facing criminal charges, and American dentist Walter Palmer, who paid a large sum to kill Cecil, most likely will too. The two Zimbabweans, Theo Bronkhorst and Honest Ndlovu, who facilitated the hunt and were reportedly paid $50,000 to do so, appeared in Hwange's magistrate's court Wednesday morning. Bronkhorst is a professional hunter, and Ndlovu is an agriculturalist.
Johnny Rodrigues, chairman for the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, confirmed legal authorities were attempting to track down Palmer, who is in hiding.
"You must understand that a lot of people are trying to kill him and are threatening him, a lot of people are tremendously upset," Rodrigues told Mic. "Though, I think they should let the law take its course and deal with him rather than trying to punish him directly."
Rodrigues also believes, despite Palmer's claims of ignorance, the dentist knew exactly who he was killing.
"I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt," Palmer said in a statement Tuesday, according to the BBC. "Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion."
"No, I don't believe he didn't know it was Cecil. He's a very educated man. He knows all the things at stake and he doesn't have a good track record," Rodrigues told Mic. "He could've gone into a national office [for parks and conservation] and said he wanted to hunt, he could've gotten a GPS system from them and stayed within the confined areas and followed the rules. But it was very much a rich man wanting his money's worth [of excitement]."
According to Rodrigues, Palmer attempted to destroy Cecil's GPS tracker after he was killed.
Rodrigues referred to Palmer's history of illegally poaching game animals. In 2006, for example, Palmer illegally killed a black bear in Wisconsin and then lied to authorities about it, resulting in felony charges.
On July 23, someone by the name of Ruth McD started a petition on Care2 in response to the furor, calling on Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to bring an end to the issuance of hunting licenses. It has already amassed nearly 350,000 signatures.
Palmer's practice, River Bluff Dental, in Minnesota has been turned into a makeshift memorial for Cecil, with people leaving stuffed animals (including a lion), notes and flowers. People documented the evidence and shared it on Twitter with the hashtag #CecilTheLion.
Palmer remains in hiding, most likely in the United States, Rodrigues speculated. As for Palmer's accomplices, Bronkhorst and Ndlovu could face as much as 15 years in prison if found guilty of the poaching charges.
"If he was a man, he'd actually fly back here and face the consequences and defend himself," Rodrigues says. "He should deal with this like a man and not a mouse."