Lion’s killing in Zimbabwe sparks worldwide outrage

Harare, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe will seek extradition of an Eden Prairie man who killed a lion that was lured out of a national park.

In the Zimbabwean government’s first official comment on the killing of Cecil the lion, the environment, water and climate minister lashed out at Walter James Palmer, accusing him even of trying to hurt Zimbabwe’s image.

“We are appealing to the responsible authorities for his extradition to Zimbabwe so that he be made accountable,” Oppah Muchinguri told a news conference.

Last Tuesday, Palmer issued a statement saying he relied on his guides to ensure the hunt was legal. “I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt,” Palmer said in statement through a public relations firm.

The lion was being studied by an Oxford University research program.

Palmer, who has a dental practice in Bloomington, advised patients of the situation in a note, telling them they would be referred to other dentists for the time being.

“I don’t often talk about hunting with my patients because it can be a divisive and emotionally charged topic. I understand and respect that not everyone shares the same views on hunting,” the letter obtained by the local Fox TV affiliate said.

Two Zimbabweans – a professional hunter and a farm owner – have been arrested in the killing of the lion. Palmer has kept a low profile, but on Friday U.S. federal wildlife authorities said they had been contacted by a representative of the Minnesota dentist.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tweeted Friday the agency was voluntarily contacted a day earlier by a representative of Walter Palmer and appreciated the cooperation. An agency spokesman verified the tweet but declined further comment.

Palmer is believed to have shot the lion with a bow on July 1 outside Hwange National Park. During the nighttime hunt, the men tied a dead animal to their car to draw the lion out of a national park, said Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force. The wounded lion was tracked for 40 hours before Palmer fatally shot it with a gun, Rodrigues said.

Muchinguri 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.

Authorities seeking Palmer’s extradition have described him as an accomplice to the illegal hunt. But they have not specified what charges might be laid against him, meaning it is unclear what penalty he could face if he is tried and convicted.

Bronkhorst was released on $1,000 bail after appearing in court in Hwange, about 435 miles west of the capital Harare, according to his defense lawyer, Givemore Muvhiringi. 

Safari Club International has suspended Palmer’s membership, and said it wants a “full and thorough investigation” into the lion’s death. It also has suspended Bronkhorst’s membership.

The Safari Club says “those who intentionally take wildlife illegally should be prosecuted and punished to the maximum extent allowed by law.” Using bait to lure the lion is deemed unethical by the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe, of which Bronkhorst is a member. The association has since revoked his license.

“Ethics are certainly against baiting. Animals are supposed to be given a chance of a fair chase,” Emmanuel Fundira, the association’s president, said. “In fact, it was not a hunt at all. The animal was baited, and that is not how we do it. It is not allowed.”

Palmer has several hunts on record with the Minnesota-based Pope and Young Club, where archers register big game taken in North America, said Glenn Hisey, the club’s director of records. Hisey said he didn’t have immediate access to records showing the types and number of animals killed by Palmer, but noted club records involve legal hunts “taken under our rules of fair chase.”

According to U.S. court records, Palmer pleaded guilty in 2008 to making false statements to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about a black bear he shot in Wisconsin. Palmer had a permit to hunt but shot the animal outside the authorized zone in 2006, then tried to pass it off as being killed elsewhere, according to court documents. He was given one year probation and fined nearly $3,000.

Hisey said he alerted the group’s board that Palmer’s ethics were being called into question. He said Palmer’s domestic records could be jeopardized if he’s found to have done something illegal abroad.    

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