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“I told him I would not be able to find one so big, so the client left the next day,” Theo Bronkhorst, founder of Bushman Safaris Zimbabwe, told The Telegraph.
Speaking for the first time since word of Cecil’s illegal slaughter garnered international headlines, Bronkhorst insisted they were never meant to hunt on the farm where the bloodthirsty 55-year-old dentist killed Cecil with a crossbow after luring him out of his Hwange National Park sanctuary.
“At the last minute, I had to divert from a concession [hunting area] about eight miles away,” he told the newspaper.
Bronkhorst said they went hunting with his son, Zane, and a scout sent by farm owner Honest Ndlovu.
“We set off quite late, with the sun down, and found the carcass of an elephant which we dragged and moved into the long grass and used for bait,” he said.
First, they saw a lioness slink past them, then the 13-year-old Cecil appeared behind her.
“He was a magnificent animal,” Bronkhorst said. “The client then fired using a bow and arrow, and it went away into the long grass. This was about 10?p.m.”
They weren’t entirely sure the beast had been taken down, but they returned the next morning to search for him.
“We found it and it was wounded, and the client then shot it, with his bow and arrow, and killed it,” Bronkhorst explained.
Professional Zimbabwean hunter Theo Bronkhorst was Walter Palmer’s guide.Photo: Getty Images
The hunting party was “devastated” to discover that Cecil was wearing a GPS collar, he insisted.
But instead of turning it in to authorities, Bronkhorst said, he “panicked,” taking the tracking device off and putting it in a tree.
They kept Cecil’s head and skin because Palmer had already ponied up $50,000 to shoot a lion and earn his trophy, he added.
“I went to Parks and reported what had happened,” the guide told The Telegraph. “I wish I had taken the collar.”
Bronkhorst, charged with conducting an illegal hunt, was released Wednesday on $1,000 bail. He insisted he had no idea Cecil was a protected lion.
Meanwhile, Palmer is still hiding out — and even ducking calls from federal agents.
“At this point in time … multiple efforts to contact Dr. Walter Palmer have been unsuccessful,” said Edward Grace, deputy chief of law enforcement at the US Fish and Wildlife Service.