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Zimbabwe to US: Extradite dentist for killing Cecil the lion

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Andy Loveridge/Wildlife Conversation Research Unit/AP

(Read caption) In this undated photo provided by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Cecil the lion rests in Hwange National Park, in Hwange, Zimbabwe. Two Zimbabweans arrested for illegally hunting a lion appeared in court Wednesday, July 29, 2015. The head of Zimbabwe’s safari association said the killing was unethical and that it couldn’t even be classified as a hunt, since the lion killed by an American dentist was lured into the kill zone.

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The environment minister of Zimbabwe has called for the Minnesota dentist accused of illegally killing Cecil the lion to be extradited from the United States to face trial for paying for an unlawful hunt.

At a press conference Friday, Oppah Muchinguri called Walter Palmer a “foreign poacher” and said she believed Zimbabwe’s prosecutor general had started the process to have him extradited, The Associated Press reported.

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Dr. Palmer is alleged to have paid around $50,000 for the chance to kill Cecil just outside the boundaries of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park earlier this month. Cecil was reportedly lured outside the park and wounded with an arrow, before being shot to death with a firearm hours later without proper permits and at night. 

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“Unfortunately it was too late to apprehend the foreign poacher as he had already absconded to his country of origin,” Ms. Muchinguri said. “We are appealing to the responsible authorities for his extradition to Zimbabwe so that he be made accountable.”

Since April 2000, the US and Zimbabwe have had a bilateral extradition treaty for cases where an individual is charged with what would be a criminal offense in both countries.

Reuters first reported Thursday the US Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating Palmer under the Lacey Act, and specifically if the hunt was a conspiracy to violate the act, which prohibits trading in wildlife that has been illegally killed, transported or sold, according to a source of the wire service.

“That investigation will take us wherever the facts lead,” Edward Grace, the USFWS deputy chief of law enforcement said, adding that the service “will assist Zimbabwe officials in whatever manner requested.”

The Zimbabwean environment minister’s remarks come as pressure mounts stateside for Palmer’s extradition.

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A We The People petition has collected more than 170,000 signatures since it was launched last Tuesday, urging Secretary of State John Kerry and Attorney General Loretta Lynch to extradite Palmer at the Zimbabwe government’s request. The petition exceeded the goal of 100,000 in under 60 days, the threshold necessary to warrant a response from the Obama administration.

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A White House spokesman said on Thursday that the Obama administration will respond, but ultimately the Department of Justice will have to act.

Mr. Grace of USFWS urged Palmer “or his representative [to] contact us immediately”, noting that “multiple efforts to contact Dr. Walter Palmer have been unsuccessful.”