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Zimbabwe seeks to extradict US killer of Cecil the lion

Protesters take photos of signs condemning the alleged poaching of Cecil the lion, in the parking lot of hunter Dr. Walter Palmer''s River Bluff.

The American dentist who killed Cecil the lion was a "foreign poacher" who paid for an illegal hunt and he should be extradited to Zimbabwe to face justice, environment minister Oppah Muchinguri said today.

In Harare's first official comments since Cecil's killing grabbed world headlines this week, Muchinguri said the Prosecutor General had already started the process to have 55-year-old Walter Palmer extradited from the United States.

Muchinguri, a senior member of President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party, described Cecil, a rare black-maned lion well-known to tourists in the Hwange National Park, as an "iconic attraction."

"The illegal killing was deliberate," she said at a news conference. "We are appealing to the responsible authorities for his extradition to Zimbabwe so that he can be held accountable for his illegal actions."

Palmer has admitted killing the 13-year-old lion, who was fitted with a GPS collar as part of an Oxford University study.

He said in a statement issued by a publicist this week that he had hired professional guides and believed the necessary hunting permits were in order.

The Minnesota dentist and trophy hunter has not been seen since his identity was revealed this week by Zimbabwean conservationists.

In Washington, a Zimbabwean diplomat said the embassy was not aware that extradition proceedings had been initiated by his government. Richard Chibuwe, deputy chief of the mission, said Zimbabwe takes the case very seriously and noted that two Zimbabwean men face court proceedings for helping Palmer.

On Wednesday, a Zimbabwean court charged local professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst with failing to prevent Palmer from unlawfully killing Cecil.

"People really feel strongly that he must also face trial," Chibuwe said of Palmer in a telephone interview.

The US Justice Department said it does not comment on extradition requests. Palmer must be charged in Zimbabwe before he can be extradited.

Muchinguri said Palmer's use of a bow and arrow to kill the lion, who is said to have been lured out of Hwange National Park with bait before being shot, contravened Zimbabwean hunting regulations.

Palmer, a lifelong big game hunter, returned to the United States before the authorities were aware of the controversy.

"It was too late to apprehend the foreign poacher because he had already absconded to his country of origin," Muchinguri said.

Cecil's death has sparked global outrage, with intense social media reaction against Palmer, protests outside his practice, and calls for him to be extradited.

The White House said on Thursday it would review a public petition with more than 100,000 signatures demanding Palmer's extradition.

Under a 1998 treaty between the United States and Zimbabwe, which have not enjoyed cordial relations in the latter part of Mugabe's 36 years in charge, a person can be extradited if he or she is accused of an offence that carries more than a year in prison.

In Zimbabwe, the illegal killing of a lion is punishable by a mandatory fine of $20,000 and up to 10 years in prison.

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Tags:  Zimbabwe  Cecil the lion  US  dentist  killer  extradition  





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