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Why Cecil The Lion's Killer Probably Won't Be Prosecuted

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A gun-toting dentist.

A black-maned lion.

Two shots.

The events that resulted in Cecil the lion’s demise aren’t pretty. But they’re nothing new either.

A man with a large pay cheque and a penchant for killing lands in Africa, wriggles around the law and leaves with the head of a lion.

Jumanji this ain't - it happens around 665 times a year.

But despite international outrage at the slaughter of Cecil, US dentist Walter Palmer probably isn’t going to be prosecuted. No matter how many angry posters are left on his practice door.

Walter Palmer Dental Practice


Cecil was shot outside of Hwange National Park, lured by bait. Which would be A-ok, providing the occupier of the land has a permit. Palmer’s organisers didn’t have a permit and so they are now facing charges.

Palmer, however, claims he thought the shoot was legal, and in fairness it isn’t his responsibility to check there is a permit for the land - the law will more than likely be on his side on this.

In Zimbabwe it’s legal to hunt all year round if you use a crossbow (which is insane), but illegal to hunt with a rifle. Cecil was shot and injured with a crossbow, stalked for 40 hours and then shot with a rifle.

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Walter Palmer is currently in hiding

Technically speaking, the hunters broke the law by opening fire but let's face it: any good lawyer will simply argue that the animal was put out of its misery, the final bullet being a last resort.

There are few activists that would honestly argue that the creature should have been left to limp around waiting to die in agony.

There’s also the small matter of Cecil’s head, which was eventually handed over to police in Zimbabwe. Keeping it from reaching its likely spot on Palmer's wall and as a knock-on effect, preventing the chance of prosecution in the US.

Had Palmer managed to bring the gory trophy back with him, he could have been charged with bringing wildlife into the country that was acquired illegally. Sure, morally, Palmer has some pretty diverting opinions and intentions but it would require some real skewing of the law to charge him on plans of importing at this stage.

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Palmer, with another slaughtered lion

Meanwhile in the US, a petition to extradite Palmer has over 100,000 signatures at the time of writing and has even made it to the White House. Fittingly, the hunter has become the hunted, with Palmer apparently laying low. 

But, while Zimbabwe’s Environment Minister has called for him to be held accountable, the decision will ultimately come to the US Justice Department and their response to the extradition order. A complicated decision considering Palmer's actions could be seen as perfectly legal next to the unscrupulous hunters he partnered with (or at least without clear criminal intent). Much like his vacant dental practice, any attempts for legal action would ultimately prove toothless. 

While the media coverage has brought the environmental and wildlife issues of the country to light, calling for the arrest of one guy who hasn’t done all that much wrong in the eyes of the law isn’t going to fix them. PETA might be rallying the troops for a witch-hunt, but the bigger problem is how Zimbabwe implements its hunting regulations, which are clearly flawed.

While the killing of animals for pleasure is undoubtedly a big issue on the African continent, not only for the survival of species but for tourism and in turn the economy, the biggest WTF, if not WWF, moment has to come from the amount of attention we’ve collectively given this. If we’re talking about the suffering of the innocent, why not start with the publicised petitions to help people starving thanks to wide-spanning food shortages over in Zimbabwe?

Cecil is indeed a tragedy but let's not gloss over the far bigger picture.

[Images: Rex, Facebook]

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