Zimbabwe seeking extradition of American lion killer

This 2012 file photo shows Cecil the lion strolling around Hwange National Park in Hwange, Zimbabwe. Cecil was illegally killed by Walter Palmer, an American dentist. After public backlash, Palmer has gone into hiding. Zimbabwe officials want him extradited to face punishments for possible crimes. (Paula French/AP)

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe intends to seek the extradition of an American dentist who killed a lion that was lured out of a national park and shot with a bow and a gun, and the process has already begun, a Cabinet minister said Friday.

“Unfortunately it was too late to apprehend the foreign poacher as he had already absconded to his country of origin,” Oppah Muchinguri, Zimbabwe’s environment, water and climate minister, told a news conference. “We are appealing to the responsible authorities for his extradition to Zimbabwe so that he be made accountable.”

On Tuesday, American hunter Walter James Palmer issued a statement saying he relied on his guides to ensure the hunt was legal. Two Zimbabweans — a professional hunter and a farm owner — have been arrested in the killing of the lion known as Cecil, a killing garnered worldwide condemnation.

“There has been an outcry,” Muchinguri said. “Almost 500,000 people are calling for his extradition and we need this support. We want him tried in Zimbabwe because he violated our laws.”

She did not explain the 500,000 but there are online petitions demanding Palmer’s extradition.

“I have already consulted with the authorities within the police force who are responsible for arresting the criminal. We have certain processes we have to follow,” Muchinguri said at the offices of the national parks and wildlife authority. “Police should take the first step to approach the prosecutor general who will approach the Americans. The processes have already started.”

The Cabinet minister said both Palmer and professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst violated the Parks and Wildlife Act, which controls the use of bow and arrow hunting. She said Palmer, who reportedly paid $50,000 to hunt the lion, also violated the act through financing an illegal hunt. The landowner violated the act because he “allowed a hunt to be conducted without a quota and necessary permit,” Muchinguri said.

There is an extradition treaty between Zimbabwe and the United States. The U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe said Friday that it does not comment on extradition matters.

Muchinguri accused Palmer of “a well-orchestrated agenda which would tarnish the image of Zimbabwe and further strain the relationship between Zimbabwe and the USA.”

Zimbabwe and the United States have often sparred over the years. The southern African country has blamed its economic woes on U.S. sanctions against President Robert Mugabe and close associates, though many commentators have attributed Zimbabwe’s economic decline to mismanagement. Washington imposed the penalties on Zimbabwe because of human rights concerns. More broadly, Mugabe has long railed against what he calls Western meddling in Africa, saying it is an extension of the colonial rule of the past.

Palmer is believed to have shot the lion with a bow on July 1 outside Hwange National Park, after it was lured onto private land with a carcass of an animal laid out on a car, Zimbabwean conservationists have said. Some 40 hours later, the wounded cat was tracked down and Palmer allegedly killed it with a gun, they said.

Palmer, 55, is a dentist in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington. In a note to his patients, he wrote: “I understand and respect that not everyone shares the same views on hunting.” He said he would resume his dental practice “as soon as possible.”

The lion’s head, which was severed by the hunters, has been confiscated by the wildlife authorities, according to Director of National Parks and Wildlife Edson Chidziya.

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