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Zimbabwe hunter behind killing of Cecil the lion arrested for smuggling

BULAWAYO – The professional hunter who helped an American dentist kill Zimbabwe’s popular lion Cecil has been arrested for his alleged link with an illegal operation to smuggle 29 sable antelope out of the country.

Theo Bronkhorst (left) and some of the teen killers on his site
Theo Bronkhorst (left) and some of the teen killers on his site

Theo Bronkhorst, 52, was arrested Monday in Zimbabwe’s second largest city of Bulawayo, police said on Tuesday.

“He is facing charges of moving wild animals without a permit” and smuggling of wild animals, police spokeswoman Charity Charamba said in a statement.

The arrest came days after three South Africans were arrested and charged for trying to smuggle 29 sable — a rare and expensive breed of antelope — out of Zimbabwe into South Africa.

Hewitt Edwin, 49, Blignaut Hendricks Johannes, 41, and Pretorius Herbert John, 49, also face charges of illegal capture and translocation of wildlife as well as illegally crossing an international boundary, according to wildlife authorities.

Zimbabwean authorities said over the weekend the animals — which include six calves and are valued at $384,000 (340,000 euros) — were captured from a private conservancy in the northwestern resort town of Victoria Falls.

A friend of Bronkhorst’s claimed the animals had come from Zambia and that the hunter had only helped the South Africans secure an import permit into Zimbabwe.

“The only thing where Theo was involved is he facilitated their importation into Zimbabwe,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“They moved them and obviously lied to him that they had an agreement to move them to some property in the West Nicholson area,” he added.

West Nicholson is located roughly halfway between Bulawayo and the Beitbridge border post shared with South Africa.

Local media say the smuggling bid was discovered when the cars transporting the animals got stuck on the Limpopo River bed, which divides the two countries.

The Zimbabwean hunter was the guide during a hunt which saw American dentist Walter Palmer pay $55,000 to shoot the popular feline Cecil, with a bow and arrow in July.

The killing of the lion, who was being collared and tracked as part of an Oxford University research project, provoked outrage among animal lovers worldwide.

Bronkhorst was on a $1,000 bail pending his trial on September 28 on charges of organising an illegal hunt which led to the lion’s death.

Sables are prized for their rarity and long horns, according to Peter Oberem, president of Wildlife Ranching South Africa.

“Because sable are scarce… their value is pretty high,” said Oberem, speaking from Pretoria. AFP