Zimbabwean hunter Theo Bronkhorst, who is accused of helping American dentist Walter Palmer kill Cecil, one of Africa’s most famous lions, has been released on bail.
Theo Bronkhorst pleaded not guilty to a charge of “failing to prevent an unlawful hunt”. He was granted bail of $1,000 and ordered to appear in court again on August 5.
His co-accused – farm owner Honest Ndlovu – will appear at a later date.
Walter Palmer, who shot Cecil the lion, has left Zimbabwe but could also face charges.
The American dentist said he paid for the hunt, but was not aware of the lion’s identity.
Walter Palmer said he regretted shooting the animal, and believed he was on a legal hunt. He had relied on professional guides to find a lion and obtain the necessary permits, he added.
Theo Bronkhorst and Honest Ndlovu could face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty.
Cecil is believed to have died on July 1st, but the carcass was not discovered until a few days later.
Walter Palmer is said to have shot and injured Cecil with a bow and arrow. The wounded lion was found 40 hours later, when he was shot dead with a gun.
Separately, court records have shown that Walter Palmer has a felony record in the US after killing a black bear in the state of Wisconsin in 2006.
Walter Palmer was given a one-year probation and fined $3,000, having shot the creature outside an authorized zone and then tried to pass it off as having been killed elsewhere.
He is believed to have paid about $50,000 to go on the hunt in Zimbabwe.
More than 400,000 people have signed an online “Justice for Cecil” petition, calling on Zimbabwe’s government to stop issuing hunting permits for endangered animals.
Walter Palmer insists that he believed his guides had secured “all proper permits” for the hunt.
“I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt,” he said in a statement on July 28.
“I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion.”
Walter Palmer said he had not been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or the US but would “assist them in any inquiries they may have”.
The dentist is believed to be back in the US, although his exact whereabouts are unknown.
His dental practice in Bloomington, Minnesota, has been temporarily closed and a note placed on the door referring visitors to a public relations firm. A protest is due to be held outside the building later.
The practice’s social media accounts have also been disabled, after they were flooded with messages from angry members of the public.
Cecil the lion was skinned and beheaded, according to the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF), a local charity.
The ZCTF said the hunters had used bait to lure him outside Hwange National Park during a night-time pursuit.
Cecil had a GPS collar fitted for a research project by UK-based Oxford University that allowed authorities to track its movements. The hunters had tried to destroy it but failed, according to the ZCTF.