ZIMBABWE – Grace Mugabe, the controversial First Lady of Zimbabwe, has surprised her nation by springing to the defence of Walter Palmer, the American dentist who shot dead Cecil the lion.
Speaking as Zimbabwe prepares to seek the extradition of the 55-year-old, Mrs Mugabe said that Mr Palmer did nothing wrong by shooting the lion.
“I say the dentist who killed the lion must be left alone,” said Mrs Mugabe.
Mr Palmer is reported to have paid about $61,000 (pounds 35,000) to kill a lion, and shot Cecil on private land.
The lion had been lured out of the Hwange National Park, and should have been protected. The guide who accompanied Mr Palmer and the man who owned the land where Cecil was shot will stand trial next month.
Zimbabwe’s prosecutor-general, Johannes Tomana said he will seek extradition of Mr Palmer for trial.
But Mrs Mugabe, 50, said at a rally in northern Zimbabwe on Thursday that the dentist had broken no law.
“He was not to blame. The people of Zimbabwe who allowed him to kill the lion are to blame.”
At a rally a week earlier Mrs Mugabe said British and American grief over Cecil was hypocritical, as the British Museum has skulls of Zimbabwe leaders from the 1890s.
Mrs Mugabe is feared by many and is increasingly powerful during internal squabbles over who will succeed her husband, Robert, who is now 91.