American dentist and trophy hunter Walter Palmer should be extradited for killing a lion during an illegal hunt, Zimbabwe’s environment minister has said.
The White House has already agreed to review a public petition to extradite Palmer, who practices in southern Minnesota, noting it had exceeded a required 100,000 signatures.
Separately the US Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether the hunters’ actions were in violation of laws prohibiting trade in illegally killed wildlife, known as the Lacey Act.
Palmer has admitted to killing the 13-year-old lion who was a well-known tourist attraction. The Zimbabwe government and animal conservationists claim the hunt was illegal as Cecil benefitted from protection as a resident of the Hwange National Park.
The best known lion in Zimbabwe is said to have been lured from the park with bait, shot with an arrow, tracked for 40 hours, shot dead with a rifle and then beheaded and skinned.
Cecil was wearing a GPS collar as part of a research project run by Oxford University.
Estimates vary on how many lions are left in Africa, with a low end of fewer than 20,000. There has been a significant decline in the African lion population over the past 20 years.
The Lacey Act can be used to prosecute anyone who violates wildlife protections under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The African lion is one of the animals protected under the treaty.
Palmers whereabouts are not known, although in a statement he said he regretted the killing.
In a Twitter post on Thursday, Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe called the killing tragic and said his agency would “go where facts lead” in its investigation.
USFWS is investigating the tragic killing of #CecilTheLion. Will go where facts lead. Efforts to contact Dr. Palmer so far unsuccessful.— Dan Ashe (@DirectorDanAshe) July 30, 2015
A local hunter has been charged in Zimbabwe with failing to prevent the unlawful killing of the lion. It has been reported that Palmer was with the other hunter and a local farmer during the hunt and that it took place without proper permits and at night.
Palmer has not been charged in Zimbabwe or the United States.