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Zimbabwe Defends Sport Hunting, Conservation Record, Despite Killing Of Cecil

In this undated photo provided by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Cecil the lion rests in Hwange National Park, in Hwange, Zimbabwe. Two Zimbabweans arrested for illegally hunting a lion appeared in court Wednesday, July 29, 2015. The head of Zimbabwe’s safari association said the killing was unethical and that it couldn’t even be classified as a hunt, since the lion killed by an American dentist was lured into the kill zone. (Andy Loveridge/Wildlife Conservation Research Unit via AP)

Zimbabwe’s Secretary of Environment, Water and Climate, Prince Muparizviriho, defended the country’s history of conservation, Tuesday, describing it as excellent, despite the recent killing of Cecil the lion.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Muparizviriho noted Cecil’s age as proof of Zimbabwe’s good treatment of animals.

"This was an animal which was now 13 years old,” he said, adding, “that's a clear demonstration that in Zimbabwe, we look after the animals. If we had not been having strong conservation efforts in terms of protecting the animals from poachers, it wouldn't have gone to that age of 13 years,” said Muparizviriho.

He said Cecil would still be alive today were it not for the work of “people who had intentions well planned, well financed and for purposes to benefit someone who has nothing to do with conservation at all in Zimbabwe."

Referring to Cecil’s alleged killer, U.S. citizen Walter James Palmer, who has reportedly been in hiding since the outcry over the lion’s brutal killing by a crossbow and gun, Muparizviriho said it was the first time the country had "had an individual from a well develop, superpower country bringing in resources to fund illegal activities in terms of our wildlife conservation in Zimbabwe."

Zimbabwe Defends Conservation Record Citing Cecil's Age As Proof
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Two Zimbabwean men - professional hunter Theo Bronchorst and farm owner Honest Trymore Ndlovu - who allegedly helped Palmer hunt and kill the lion, have been charged and are currently free on bail. Muparizviriho said Palmer too will face justice for Cecil’s killing. Zimbabwe has announced its intention to request for Palmer’s extradition to Zimbabwe to face charges.

"Obviously the law must take its course,” said the environment secretary, giving the examples of Bronchorst and Ndlovu, whose arrest, he said, “shows that in Zimbabwe our law enforcement agencies are really on top of the situation.”

Zimbabwean police said they are looking for Palmer, who reportedly paid 50,000 US dollars to track and kill the animal. Muparizviriho encouraged anyone with information about his whereabouts to come forward.

“If you know where he is and how the authorities can reach him, surely please provide that information,” he urged.

Palmer, a dentist living in the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie, said in a statement that he was unaware the lion was protected, relying on local guides to ensure a legal hunt.

While Cecil’s controversial killing sparked a worldwide debate over the ethics of hunting wildlife, Muparizviriho said Zimbabwe depends on such hunting to fund its conservation efforts but also control the numbers of various species.

“Short of going on a culling exercise where you are just shooting the animals willy-nillly in order to reduce numbers, there's need to have a scientific way of doing it which also brings in resources for purposes of conservation and sport hunting, as part of that conservation hunting I'm referring to, is necessary for that purpose."