The professional hunter who took out the party which shot Cecil the lion has been cleared by the high court in Zimbabwe.
Cecil’s death caused outrage around the world, with animal rights’ campaigners demanding that trophy hunting be banned.
The lion was allegedly lured out before being shot with a bow and arrow and then left to bleed to death.
Cecil was shot by American dentist Walter Palmer, who faced death threats himself after killing the lion in Hwange National Park last summer.
Protestors camped outside his practice in Bloomington, Minnesota, and Mr Palmer and his family were forced to go into hiding for some time until the furore died down.
However, a court has now ruled that Theo Bronkhorst, the professional hunter and guide who organised the trip, should not face any criminal charges in connection with Cecil’s death.
His legal team argued that the charge brought against him of “failing to prevent an illegal hunt” was too vague to answer. Although they decided that he had broken National Parks rules, judges decided this was not a criminal offence.
Charges brought against Mr Palmer had already been dropped a year ago. He had paid $45,000 to kill 13-year-old Cecil, who was a prized research animal and had become a mighty symbol of Zimbabwe’s safari industry.
Mr Palmer, who paid thousands for security after the incident, said he had believed that his local guide had the necessary permits when he shot the lion, before Cecil was skinned and his head taken off.
At the time of his death, Cecil had been fitted with a GPS collar because he was part of a research project being carried out by the University of Oxford, and park rangers were monitoring his movements.
Cecil the lion was something of a celebrity in Zimbabwe and tourists on safari would go out hoping to catch a glimpse of him.
After he was shot, wellwishers flooded animal conservation charities in the region with donations.
That led to the creation of the Conservation Wildlife Fund, which provides cash for community and conservation projects within the park where Cecil was shot.
Cecil’s case highlighted the plight facing lions in Africa. As a result of hunting, poaching and loss of their natural habitat, there are now just 25,000 lions in Africa; 450 of which live in Hwange National Park.