By Deborah Hastings
Two Zimbabweans who were paid $50,000 by an American dentist to hunt and kill a beloved lion were charged with poaching Wednesday in a trophy hunting case that has sparked international disgust.
Local hunter Theo Bronkhorst and Honest Ndlovu, a private game park operator, appeared in a Hwange courtroom, about 500 miles west of the capital of Harare, but did not speak to reporters.
Walter James Palmer, a trophy hunter and a dentist in Minnesota, has been accused of killing Cecil the lion, a famous attraction at a local wildlife reserve, by luring it off protected land, shooting the majestic beast with a bow and arrow, then tracking it for 40 miles before chopping its head off and skinning the carcass. The body was left to rot.
Palmer has apologized for the killing, saying he thought it was legal. He has returned to the United States, but says he has not been contacted by Zimbabwe officials. He reportedly has gone into hiding.
The two nationals could face up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.
Cecil was fitted with a GPS collar as part of a research project by Oxford University scientists. The college's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit had been monitoring the lion in its habitat since 2008.
"Insofar as this happened illegally, we consider it deeply reprehensible," the scientists said in a statement.
Cecil's death may also cause the killing of the lion's four male cubs as male members fight for leadership of the pack, wildlife authorities said.
Palmer has had previous run-ins over poaching. In 2008, he pleaded guilty to lying to a U.S. wildlife officer over the killing of black bear in Wisconsin.
Palmer killed the animal 40 miles outside of a permitted hunting zone, then hauled the carcass into the area and claimed he killed it there.
Palmer was sentenced to one year of probation and fined nearly $3,000. Video.