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.
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.
“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, said at 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 had relied on his guides to ensure the hunt was legal. Two Zimbabweans — a professional hunter and a farm owner — have been arrested over the killing of the lion known as Cecil, an act that has 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 figure, 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 by 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.
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 U.S. 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 the economic decline to mismanagement. Washington has said it 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 the animal 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.
The killing has sparked social media outrage against Palmer in the U.S. The White House said Thursday it would review a public petition of more than 100,000 signatures to have him extradited.
Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said in a statement to the press on Tuesday that Palmer should be “extradited, charged and preferably hanged.” Palmer has reportedly received a number of threats, but police in his neighborhood have denied claims in the claims in the news that he was under special police protection.
Al Jazeera and wire services