By Mike Saburi
HWANGE, Zimbabwe (Reuters) - A Zimbabwean hunter accused of failing to stop the killing of Cecil the lion said on Thursday his family and business had been destroyed amid the outcry that followed the lion's death and that charges against him should be dropped.
The Zimbabwean government said on Monday it would not charge American dentist Walter Palmer, who killed its most prized lion with a bow and arrow in July, because he had obtained legal authority to conduct the hunt.
Theo Bronkhorst is accused of failing to stop an illegal hunt when he helped Palmer kill Cecil, a rare black-maned lion, in a case that caused international outrage and put the spotlight on big game hunting in Africa.
The national parks agency said in July that Bronkhorst could not work as a professional hunter, after cancelling his license.
"It's destroyed us, it has destroyed the family, our business," Bronkhorst told journalists, holding back tears outside the Hwange magistrates court in western Zimbabwe.
Asked whether he believed he was innocent, Bronkhorst said: "Absolutely. I believe our permits were in order ... and I still think we are gonna be vindicated."
Bronkhorst's lawyer Givemore Muvhiringi told Reuters that the state decides whom it wants to prosecute, but that it did not make sense not to charge Palmer but continue to pursue Bronkhorst. He said Bronkhorst's charges should be dropped.
"It's a contradiction. Now they have gone on to say Palmer's hunt was lawful after all, so it means that there was nothing that Bronkhorst was supposed to stop and failed to stop," Muvhiringi told Reuters.
On Thursday, the magistrates court in Hwange postponed Bronkhorst's case for the third time, to Oct. 20, to allow it time to study submissions by the prosecution and defense regarding Bronkhorst's application to quash his indictment.
The park's agency has said prosecutors plan to present 13-year-old Cecil's head in court as evidence.
The head was discovered by the police in the city of Bulawayo where it was undergoing preservation before being shipped to Palmer in the United States.
Bronkhorst denied that the hunting party had used bait to lure Cecil, who was fitted with a GPS collar for a research project by scientists from Oxford University, outside the Hwange National Park before shooting him.
"Absolute nonsense, the animal was already on an elephant carcass. We didn't even have to lure him, he was there. He was already on an elephant carcass that was lying there," he said.
Bronkhorst said collared lions were shot in Zimbabwe every year, adding that five such big cats had been killed in 2015.
(Writing by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Catherine Evans)