HARARE - First Lady Grace Mugabe has said US dentist Walter Palmer cannot shoulder blame or be prosecuted for killing celebrity lion Cecil.
Grace’s statement flies in the face of demands by Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, the Environment minister, that Palmer be extradited to stand trial in Zimbabwe for killing the 13-year-old much-loved lion.
Palmer “had a well-orchestrated agenda which would tarnish the image of Zimbabwe and further strain the relationship between Zimbabwe and the US,” Muchinguri-Kashiri said.
“Palmer, his professional hunter guide, and the owner of the land where the hunt took place are accused of an illegal hunt under Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Act,” Muchinguri-Kashiri said in a statement.
Palmer is accused of financing an illegal hunt, and he and the professional hunter are also accused of illegally using a crossbow “to conceal the illegal hunt” so they would not alert rangers on patrol, she said.
But Grace told a rally at Murombedzi Growth Point that the bow-hunting fanatic “was not aware of the importance of Cecil.”
She said Palmer was a professional hunter who was misled by “greedy and corrupt” Zimbabweans into illegally killing the coveted lion.
“It’s our people who are to blame, down with them. So, one million people signed a petition to have him prosecuted, but I said I don’t care, keep him there.
“Is an animal more important than our people who were beheaded and taken as trophies to the British museums?” asked Grace.
While Grace slammed Western governments who “mourned” Cecil for “double standards”, she blamed locals for misleading Palmer into an illegal hunt.
“So I said I don’t like hypocrisy of the whites, this white person is said to be a dentist from United States, he came here because there are people with hunting concessions who are allowed to have people from outside to come and hunt wildlife, maybe you haven’t heard of it,” she said.
“This white men came and paid his money, but the way it was done was not good, our people let him kill an animal on research.
“I believe when he (Palmer) killed this animal, he didn’t know. The people to blame are the Zimbabweans who are greedy for money, who made the white man kill that animal.”
Ironically, Grace and Muchinguri-Kashiri are former allies whose joint efforts last year led to the ouster of former vice president Joice Mujuru.
However, they now seem to have broken ranks as their names have been recently mentioned on several occasions in internecine Zanu PF struggles for supremacy.
Palmer admitted killing the 13-year-old predator, which was fitted with a GPS collar as part of an Oxford University study, but argued he had hired professional guides and believed all the necessary hunting permits were in order.
Muchinguri-Kashiri argued that Palmer’s use of a bow and arrow to kill the lion was in contravention of Zimbabwean hunting regulations.
Palmer shot Cecil with a bow and arrow after luring him out of Hwange National Park into the Gwai Conservancy using a carcass. Cecil, recognisable by the black streaks in his mane, suffered a slow death after being shot by a gun.
Professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst of Bushman Safaris and Honest Ndlovu, owner of Antoinette Farm, the land on which Cecil was shot, have been charged for the killing, but are out on bail.
The illegal killing of a lion is punishable by a mandatory fine of $20 000 and up to 10 years in prison.
Palmer, from Minnesota, has said he relied on the expertise of local guides “to ensure a legal hunt.”
“I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favourite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt,” Palmer said in a statement.
He allegedly paid $50 000 in early July to hunt the lion.
Chairperson of the Gwai Valley Farmers Association Mark Russell said Cecil’s killing was an act of poaching as it was not conducted with a lion hunting permit and was not authorised by the farmers’ association.
Meanwhile, in Washington, US Senator Robert Menendez has introduced legislation called Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large (CECIL) Animal Trophies Act.
It would expand import bans to species proposed for listing as threatened or endangered, as well as those already considered endangered.