Zimbabwe will not charge the U.S. dentist who killed Cecil the Lion in July because his legal documentation to hunt had been in order, a cabinet minister said Monday, according to Reuters. The country has abandoned the high-profile case against 55-year-old Walter Palmer.
"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," Environment Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri told reporters, via Reuters. Muchinguri-Kashiri said that because Palmer had the proper legal authority for the hunt, Zimbabwe called off its request for his extradition. Palmer recently returned to his practice in Minnesota. “He is free to come, not for hunting, but as a tourist,” Muchinguri-Kashiri said, according to Bloomberg.
Palmer was the subject of international headlines after the July killing of the 13-year-old lion, who was a favorite among tourists at Hwange National Park. The dentist reportedly paid $50,000 for the hunt. The lion had been wearing a collar as a part of a study for Oxford University. He was first wounded by an arrow, then was tracked for some 40 hours before being killed with a rifle outside of park grounds.
Theo Bronkhorst, who led the expedition, moved to have his case thrown out at the end of September, saying the charge was not clear and that there was no chargeable offense.
"If I had known this lion had a name and was important to the country or a study, obviously I wouldn't have taken it," Palmer said in an interview with the Associated Press. "Nobody in our hunting party knew before or after the name of this lion."
Palmer, an avid hunter, was widely criticized on social media, many users expressing outrage at the dentist. He had largely moved out of the public eye as some officials in Zimbabwe called for his extradition. In his interview with AP, Palmer said he believed he acted legally in the hunt.