Harare – Prosecutors in Zimbabwe have been forced to drop a charge relating to the smuggling of sable antelopes against professional hunter, Theo Bronkhorst – of Cecil the lion fame – his lawyer said on Thursday.
But that does not mean he cannot still be charged in connection with the alleged crime.
But Bronkhorst, who was behind the illegal hunting of Cecil in July by an American dentist, now faces a fresh charge over the possession of wildlife trophies, it has emerged.
The Zimbabwean hunter was arrested on Monday in Bulawayo following the discovery at the weekend of 29 sable antelopes in trucks stuck at an illegal border crossing to South Africa.
First reports said two of the sable antelopes had died but there is a conflicting claim that the pair may have escaped.
Three South Africans have also been detained.
Cecil’s killing sparked a wave of global outrage, much of it directed against the hunting industry.
Advocate Perpetua Dube said prosecutors on Wednesday had attempted to put Bronkhorst on remand over the smuggling of the sable antelopes “which we obviously resisted because he had not been given any factual particulars for the charge”.
In an interview, she said the state decided to withdraw that charge before plea. “When the state withdraws a charge before plea, it means that they have to go back, put their house in order and decide whether they will or they will not [charge him].
“They may still charge him,” Dube added. She said Bronkhorst denied owning the sable antelopes found in the trucks.
The official Chronicle newspaper said the sable antelope smuggling charges had been withdrawn “for lack of evidence”.
The new charge against the hunter stems from the discovery of 29 animal skins and 10 animal skulls at his house on Monday. Prosecutors said he was supposed to have moved them by Saturday. Bronkhorst denies the charge and has paid bail, Dube says.
The lawyer said: “The charge is that he moved and possessed a trophy contrary to the conditions of a permit. He has a permit to move and possess the trophies but they say he contravened the terms of the permit.”