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Zimbabwe hunter behind Cecil lion killing freed in sable smuggling case
by Staff Writers
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe (AFP) Sept 17, 2015

Prosecutors have withdrawn new smuggling charges against the professional hunter who helped an American dentist kill Zimbabwe's popular lion Cecil, his lawyer said Thursday.

Theo Bronkhorst, 52, was arrested on Monday in Zimbabwe's second largest city of Bulawayo after he was linked with an illegal operation to smuggle 29 sable antelope out of the country.

"The state withdrew charges relating to the sables before plea," lawyer Perpetua Dube told AFP.

"He was, however, charged with moving animal trophies contrary to provisions of his permit and granted $100 bail."

Bronkhorst was held 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 that 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.

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 is 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.

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