HWANGE NATIONAL PARK, Zimbabwe — As outrage grows over the killing of Cecil the lion, Zimbabwe has called on the United States to extradite the American dentist who shot the prized big cat this month. Zimbabwe has started extradition proceedings and hopes the U.S. will cooperate, said Oppah Muchinguri, the African nation’s environment minister.
Walter Palmer “had a well-orchestrated agenda which would tarnish the image of Zimbabwe and further strain the relationship between Zimbabwe and the U.S.A.,” Muchinguri said. “This must be condemned in the strongest possible terms by all genuine, animal-loving conservationists who believe in sustainable utilization of natural resources.”
Palmer allegedly paid $50,000 this month to hunt the lion with a crossbow near Hwange National Park in western Zimbabwe.
It turned out to be Cecil — a major tourist draw at Hwange — who had been lured out of the park sanctuary with a dead animal on top of a vehicle, according to the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force.
The 13-year-old lion, recognizable by the black streaks in his mane, suffered a slow death, the conservation group said.
Amid the uproar over the hunt, Palmer’s whereabouts remain unknown.
A White House petition requesting that Palmer, who killed the prized lion, be extradited to the African nation to face justice may receive a response from the Obama administration.
The petition needed to receive 100,000 signatures by August 27 to get a response. It had more than 160,000 signatures by early Friday.
Muchinguri said that there was also much outcry in Zimbabwe and that nearly 500,000 people had called via Facebook for Palmer’s extradition.
“We are taking this issue seriously,” he said, adding that Palmer should be tried in Zimbabwe for his alleged offenses.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also investigating the circumstances of the lion’s death.
“That investigation will take us wherever the facts lead. At this point in time, however, multiple efforts to contact Dr. Walter Palmer have been unsuccessful,” said Edward Grace, the agency’s deputy chief of law enforcement.
“We ask that Dr. Palmer or his representative contact us immediately.”
Journalist Columbus Mavhunga in Harare and CNN’s Jason Morris contributed to this report.