Zimbabwe will not charge US dentist for killing Cecil the lion

Caught on Camera: Cecil the Lion's Cubs

Zimbabwe will not charge American dentist Walter Palmer for killing its most prized lion in July because he had obtained legal authority to conduct the hunt, a cabinet minister said on Monday, angering conservationists.

Palmer, a lifelong big-game hunter from Minnesota, stoked a global controversy when he killed Cecil, a rare black-maned lion, with a bow and arrow outside Hwange National Park in Western Zimbabwe.

But Palmer's hunting papers were in order, Environment Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri said on Monday. Consequently, he could not be charged.

See photos of Walter Palmer and protests following the death of Cecil:

16 PHOTOS
Cecil, Zimbabwe Lion killed by Minnesota dentist
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Zimbabwe will not charge US dentist for killing Cecil the lion
BLOOMINGTON, MINN - SEPTEMBER 8: Dentist and trophy hunter Dr. Walter Palmer (L- in black short sleeves) walks into his clinic with private security and members of the media on September 8, 2015 in Bloomington, MN. Palmer came to his clinic for the first time in over a month after killing famed lion Cecil in Zimbabwe. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MINN - SEPTEMBER 8: Dentist and trophy hunter Dr. Walter Palmer (L- in black short sleeves) walks into his clinic with private security and members of the media on September 8, 2015 in Bloomington, MN. Palmer came to his clinic for the first time in over a month after killing famed lion Cecil in Zimbabwe. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MINN - SEPTEMBER 8: Protester Cathy Pierce (C) and other protesters voice their anger after Dr. Walter Palmer walks into his clinic on September 8, 2015 in Bloomington, MN. Palmer came to his clinic for the first time in over a month after killing famed lion Cecil in Zimbabwe. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 05: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) protesters hold pictures of Cecil the Lion as they stand in front of the Department of Interior building to protest against the importing of wild game killed as trophies August 5, 2015 in Washington, DC. Peta is calling on the Fish and Wildlife Service to take steps to end cruel trophy hunting by listing lions as a threatened species and banning the importation of their heads, tails, and skins into the U.S. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Cecil the lion.

(Photo via International Animal Rescue Foundation Africa)

BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 29: Protesters call attention to the alleged poaching of Cecil the lion, in the parking lot of Dr. Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental Clinic on July 29, 2015 in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to reports, the 13-year-old lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed by Dr. Palmer, who had paid at least $50,000 for the hunt. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 29: Protesters place signs on the doors of Dr. Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental Clinic to call attention to the alleged poaching of Cecil the lion on July 29, 2015 in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to reports, the 13-year-old lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed by Dr. Palmer, who had paid at least $50,000 for the hunt. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 29: Protesters call attention to the alleged poaching of Cecil the lion in the parking lot of Dr. Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental Clinic on July 29, 2015 in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to reports, the 13-year-old lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed by Dr. Palmer, who had paid at least $50,000 for the hunt. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 29: Protesters place stuffed animals on the sign of Dr. Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental Clinic to call attention to the alleged poaching of Cecil the lion on July 29, 2015 in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to reports, the 13-year-old lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed by Dr. Palmer, who had paid at least $50,000 for the hunt. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 05: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) protesters hold pictures of Cecil the Lion as they stand in front of the Department of Interior building to protest against the importing of wild game killed as trophies August 5, 2015 in Washington, DC. Peta is calling on the Fish and Wildlife Service to take steps to end cruel trophy hunting by listing lions as a threatened species and banning the importation of their heads, tails, and skins into the U.S. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Cecil the lion from Zimbabwe that was killed by an American Dentist is projected on the Empire State Building, in the 'Projecting Change on the Empire State Building' project, made by the Oscar winning director and founder of Oceanic Preservation Society Louis Psihoyos and producer Fisher Stevens in New York on August 1, 2015. PHOTO/ KENA BETANCUR (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 29: Protesters call attention to the alleged poaching of Cecil the lion, in the parking lot of Dr. Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental Clinic on July 29, 2015 in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to reports, the 13-year-old lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed by Dr. Palmer, who had paid at least $50,000 for the hunt. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 29: Protesters call attention to the alleged poaching of Cecil the lion, in the parking lot of Dr. Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental Clinic on July 29, 2015 in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to reports, the 13-year-old lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed by Dr. Palmer, who had paid at least $50,000 for the hunt. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 29: Protesters call attention to the alleged poaching of Cecil the lion, in the parking lot of Dr. Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental Clinic on July 29, 2015 in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to reports, the 13-year-old lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed by Dr. Palmer, who had paid at least $50,000 for the hunt. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 29: Rachel Augusta leads the protest of the killing of Cecil the lion in the parking lot of hunter Dr. Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental Clinic on July 29, 2015 in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to reports, the 13-year-old lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed by Dr. Palmer, who had paid at least $50,000 for the hunt. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
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"We approached the police and then the Prosecutor General, and it turned out that Palmer came to Zimbabwe because all the papers were in order," Muchinguri-Kashiri told reporters.

Muchinguri-Kashiri said Palmer was free to visit Zimbabwe as a tourist but not as a hunter. The implication was he would not be issued the permits a hunter needs.

The environment minister's comments immediately drew the ire of the animal conservation group Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, which maintained that Palmer had committed a crime and said it planned to pursue legal action against him in the U.S.

Palmer could not be reached immediately for comment on the environment minister's statement to reporters.

"The fact is the law was broken. We are going to get our advocates in America to actually see what they can do to bring justice to him," said Johnny Rodrigues, the head of the task force, which first reported news of Cecil's killing.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has previously said it was investigating the killing of the lion.

Two more people still face charges related to Cecil's killing. Both allegedly were involved in using bait to lure Cecil out of his habitat in Hwange National Park so he could be killed.

Theo Bronkhorst, a professional hunter in Zimbabwe, is charged with breaching hunting rules in connection with the hunt in which Cecil was killed. A game park owner is also charged with allowing an illegal hunt. Both have denied the charges.

Bronkhorst is expected to appear in a Hwange court on Thursday where a magistrate will rule on a request by his lawyers that his indictment be quashed.

Parks officials said prosecutors would bring Cecil's head, which the hunters took as a trophy, to court as an exhibit if the trial goes ahead.

Palmer, 55, has previously said that the hunt was legal and no one in the hunting party realized the targeted lion was Cecil, a well-known tourist attraction in the park.

Wildlife hunting, which earned $45 million last year, is an important source of money for the southern African nation, still recovering from a catastrophic recession between 1999-2008.

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