Hunter who helped kill Cecil the Lion gets charges dropped

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In the aftermath of discovering Zimbabwe's beloved black-maned lion Cecil had been shot and killed by Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer, Zimbabwe officials called for Palmer to be extradited and said others involved in the hunt would be "made accountable" for their illegal actions.

More than a year later, Palmer has been cleared, and now a Zimbabwe court has agreed to drop charges against Theo Bronkhorst—the professional hunter who is said to have charged Palmer $50,000 to hunt Cecil in July 2015.

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Cecil, Zimbabwe Lion killed by Minnesota dentist
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Cecil, Zimbabwe Lion killed by Minnesota dentist
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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Bronkhorst's lawyer, Perpetua Dube, told South African news site News24 that the charges against his client were too vague to enable the defense to properly mount a defense.

"There was no full trial but the [High Court] judge has decided that the charges as they were brought at that time were not properly constituted," Dube said. "He's agreed with us on that point. And that is all there is to it."

Bronkhorst arranged the hunt for Palmer, who shot Cecil with a bow in a field just outside the Hwange National Park boundaries. The team tracked the wounded lion for another 11 hours before killing him.

RELATED: African Park Complains the 'Cecil Effect' Is Leaving Too Many Lions Alive

Zimbabwe environment minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri initially called for Palmer to be extradited to Zimbabwe and brought charges against Bronkhorst for not obtaining the right permits to hunt in the country.

​​​​​The death of one of the country's most popular tourist attractions drew the ire of the international conservation community and sparked a backlash against the big game hunting industry in Africa. While Cecil's killers may avoid legal punishment, the lion's death has had big consequences on the big game trophy hunting industry.

Prior to Cecil, hundreds of lions had been killed in Zimbabwe and across Africa through big game hunting, but most of the killings had gone unnoticed. An estimated 20,000 lions remain in all of Africa—down from the half a million that roamed 200 years ago—and research suggests the number could be halved in another 20 years.

But Cecil's unique story and his controversial death galvanized the conservation community into action.

"I've never seen any sort of animal issue resonate like this before," Beth Allgood, campaigns director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told TakePart last year.

Over the past year, U.S. federal officials have put lions under stricter conservation protections, multiple airlines have banned the transport of lion trophies aboard their planes, and several countries have restricted the import of lion trophies.

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Related stories on TakePart:

One Year After Cecil's Death, Lions Face Bigger Threats Than Hunting

On the Anniversary of Cecil's Death, House Democrats Target Trophy Hunting

There's a Cecil the Lion Halloween Costume, and Yes, the Head Is Chopped Off

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