Zimbabwe Wants Lion-Killer Dentist Extradited as He Goes into Hiding

AP Photo
The Associated Press
Washington D.C.

The Minnesota dentist who is charged with hunting and killing Zimbabwe’s Cecil The Lion has gone into hiding as animal rights activists target his home and offices with protests and vandalism. But now the African nation where the hunt took place is also seeking his extradition to face charges of illegal hunting in the death of the well-known lion.

Zimbabwean officials charge that the guides and landowner who were contracted by the dentist to arrange a lion hunt lured the famed lion out of his protected preserve in the Hwange National Park where the beast served both as a tourist draw and a subject of study by Hwange Lion Research, a scientific group funded by Oxford University.

For his part, the dentist, Walter Palmer, said that he used local guides and hunting agents in Zimbabwe to ensure he was operating legally and so was not aware that the hunt was illegal. He said that he paid $50,000 for what he was told was a legal permit to bag a lion.

“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 a statement released earlier last week.

By Friday evening, though, officials in Zimbabwe formally asked the U.S. government to extradite the dentist to face charges of poaching and illegal hunting.

When asking for the dentist’s extradition on Friday, Oppah Muchinguri, Zimbabwe’s environment minister, insisted that Palmer had “a well-orchestrated agenda which would tarnish the image of Zimbabwe and further strain the relationship between Zimbabwe and the USA.”

In a statement released Friday, the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority charged that “on the 1st of July 2015, this lion was illegally killed by Dr. Walter Palmer, a United States of America national and Theo Bronkhorst, a professional hunter with Bushman Safaris on Antoinette farm in Gwayi River Conservancy. The lion had a fitted GPS satellite collar as part of current research efforts being done in Hwange National Park and its surrounding areas. The lion was well known and regularly sighted by tourists.”

The landowner, the government reported, did have hunting permissions but did not have any permits to offer hunters a lion. The hunter in Zimbabwe and the landowner upon which the hunt took place have both been apprehended by the African nation’s wildlife authorities.

While the federal government has not yet commented on the status of extradition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already started an investigation and has been looking for the dentist for a week, now.

The government says that Palmer’s hunt may have violated the U.S. Lacey Act, a conservation law meant to protect wildlife not just in the U.S. but across the globe. The Lacey Act stipulates that if American citizens violate hunting laws in foreign nations they can be served up to other nations through a treaty with the United Nations.

Palmer, though, has gone into hiding, no doubt waiting for the whole situation to be decided and to avoid the animal rights activists picketing his home and business.

The dentist did, however, have a representative contact the federal government to offer his cooperation in the investigation.

“The Service’s investigation is ongoing and appreciates that Dr. Palmer’s representative reached out,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said on Friday morning.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at igcolonel@hotmail.com