Professional hunters in Zimbabwe court over killing of lions
Two professional hunters have appeared in a Zimbabwean court, each accused in separate cases of helping Americans kill lions.
A professional hunter who helped an American kill a popular lion named Cecil in an allegedly illegal hunt near Hwange National Park in western Zimbabwe dismissed the case against him as "frivolous."
Wearing sunglasses and a camouflage cap and jacket, Theo Bronkhorst appeared in a court in Hwange town, where he faces charges of failing to prevent an unlawful hunt. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.
Givemore Muvhiringi, Bronkhorst's lawyer, asked for the trial to be postponed to September 28 so he can prepare the case. The prosecution did not object and magistrate Lindiwe Maphosa approved the postponement in a court session that lasted only a few minutes.
"I think it's frivolous and I think it's wrong," Bronkhorst told journalists when asked about the charges against him. He said he believed he had not done anything illegal.
Bronkhorst said hunting is "an integral part of our country and it's got to continue and if we do not use wildlife sustainably, there will be no wildlife".
Bronkhorst assisted Walter James Palmer, a Minnesota dentist and bow hunter who killed Cecil in early July. Zimbabwean officials say the killing of the lion was not approved and a Cabinet minister says Palmer should be extradited.
Palmer has said he relied on his professional guides to ensure the hunt was legal.
Hours later, a second Zimbabwean hunter appeared in the Hwange court accused of assisting American doctor Jan Casimir Seski to kill a lion in an alleged illegal bow hunt.
Headman Sibanda, a professional hunter and owner of a safari camp close to Hwange park, was accused of failing to prevent an unlawful hunt. He was released on bail by magistrate Portia Mhlanga, who also asked him to surrender his passport and report to the police twice a week.
The prosecutor said the killing happened some time between June 22 and July 2. The Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority had said on Sunday that the lion was killed in April. The wildlife management body could not be reached to clarify the discrepancy.
Sibanda's lawyer Tonderai Mukuku said his client faces a fine or one year in jail. The case was postponed to September 3.
After his court appearance, Sibanda said the hunt was legal and Seski "acted in good faith".
"I have permits for a bow hunt from the National Parks Authority. Everything is in order so I am not worried," he said. "I did not commit a crime and Seski did not commit a crime."
Seski is not yet a wanted man in the southern African country. In court he was simply named as the client.