Zimbabweans linked to illegal lion hunt appear in court

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Two Zimbabweans arrested for illegally hunting a protected lion named Cecil were in court on Wednesday as anger at the kill by an American dentist escalated.

"If, as has been reported, this dentist and his guides lured Cecil out of the park with food so as to shoot him on private property ... he needs to be extradited, charged, and, preferably, hanged," People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said in a statement Wednesday. The statement, emailed to The Associated Press, came from Ingrid Newkirk, president of the animal rights organization.

Social media on the internet — for example on Twitter under #cecilthelion — were also filled with condemnation of the killing of the black-maned lion just outside Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwean men — a professional hunter and a farm owner — are accused of helping Walter James Palmer hunt the lion. Zimbabwean police said they are looking for Palmer, who reportedly paid $50,000 to track and kill the animal.

During a nighttime hunt, the men tied a dead animal to their car to lure the lion out of a national park, said Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force. The American is believed to have shot it with a crossbow, injuring the animal. The wounded lion was found 40 hours later, and Palmer shot it dead with a gun, Rodrigues said.

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.

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