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Two Zimbabweans freed on bail in death of Cecil the lion

(CNN)Two men arrested in the death of Cecil the lion — a case in which an American dentist has also been accused, unleashing a torrent of anger online — were released Wednesday by a court in Zimbabwe on $1,000 bail each.

Theo Bronchorst, a professional hunter, and Honest Trymore Ndlovu, a landowner, both Zimbabweans, said through their attorney that they were innocent of poaching charges, which officials said could bring a sentence of 10 years in prison.

Zimbabwean authorities said that Walter J. Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota, paid at least $50,000 for the hunt. Palmer has said he relied on the expertise of local guides “to ensure a legal hunt.”

But the lion that he and his local guides killed wasn’t just any lion, according to Zimbabwean officials.

He was Cecil, a major tourist draw at Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park.

The 13-year-old lion, recognizable by the black streaks in his mane, suffered a slow death, according to the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force.

The hunters lured him out of the sanctuary of the park with a dead animal on top of a vehicle, the conservation group said.

Palmer, officials said, then shot the lion with a crossbow, a method for which he is known. But Cecil survived another 40 hours until the hunters tracked him down and shot him with a gun.

Cecil was skinned and beheaded, and the hunters tried to destroy the GPS collar that Cecil was wearing as part of research backed by Oxford University, the group said.

“I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt,” Palmer said Tuesday in a statement. “I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt.”

Torrent of anger online

His alleged role in Cecil’s death brought a wave of online anger crashing down on him.

The Yelp page for his dental practice in Bloomington, Minnesota, was inundated with reviews posted by people irate over his lion hunting.

150728212459-03-walter-james-palmer-exlarge-169Walter J. Palmer, left, a U.S. hunter wanted in the killing of Zimbabwe’s Cecil the lion, poses with a dead ram.

“Shame on you, killing a majestic creature,” wrote a user named Charmie P.

The website for Palmer’s business, River Bluff Dental, appeared to have been taken down.

A torrent of outrage flowed on social media, with celebrities such as Sharon Osbourne lambasting the dentist.

“I hope that #WalterPalmer loses his home, his practice & his money,” Osbourne tweeted. “He has already lost his soul.”


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