The day of reckoning may soon arrive for Cecil the Lion‘s killer.
Zimbabwe’s environment minister, Oppah Muchinguri, has called for the extradition of Walter Palmer, the 55-year-old American dentist who shot, skinned, and beheaded the lion during a July 1 hunting expedition in the African country.
“The illegal killing was deliberate,” Muchinguri said at a Friday press conference, reports Reuters. “We are appealing to the responsible authorities for his extradition to Zimbabwe so that he can be held accountable for his illegal actions.”
“To my knowledge, everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted.”
Muchinguri dubbed Palmer a “foreign poacher” while elevating 13-year-old Cecil as a “iconic attraction” in Zimbabwe.
Following international outrage over the killing of Cecil, who wore a GPS collar as part of an Oxford University wildlife-tracking study, Palmer admitted to having shot the lion, but he asserted that, “To my knowledge, everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted.”
Palmer, a resident of Minnesota, reportedly paid approximately $50,000 for his now-infamous hunting trip, which was arranged by Bushman Safaris. Theo Bronkhorst, founder of Bushman Safaris and Palmer’s hunting guide, has been charged for his role in hunting Cecil.
Though hunting lions and other big game is legal in Zimbabwe, Bronkhorst and Palmer allegedly broke the law by using bait to lure Cecil out of a protected park area to a nearby property, where shooting the lion was legal. They also allegedly tried to destroy Cecil’s GPS collar, another infraction.
During a court appearance on Wednesday, Bronkhorst reportedly pled not guilty for “failing to supervise, control and take reasonable steps to prevent an unlawful hunt,” reports Reuters.
Cecil’s death has sparked international outrage, but it was reportedly not a major issue in Zimbabwe until after the world took notice.
Under a U.S.-Zimbabwe extradition treaty, Americans can be extradited to the country for crimes that carry a penalty of one year in prison or more. Illegally killing a lion in the country is punishable with a $20,000 fine and 10 years in prison.
Back in the U.S., more than 165,000 people have signed a White House petition calling for Palmer’s extradition. The Obama administration said Thursday that it would review the petition, which needed 100,000 signatures to prompt a response from the White House.
Zimbabwe’s prosecutor general has already begun the extradition process for Palmer, according to Muchinguri.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a tweet on Thursday that it is investigating the killing of Cecil.
We're investigating the killing of #CecilTheLion. Will go where facts lead. We ask Dr. Palmer or his rep to contact USFWS immediately.— US Fish and Wildlife (@USFWS) July 30, 2015
Facing an extreme backlash online, including death threats, Palmer has reportedly closed his dental practice, River Bluff Dental, and gone into hiding.
Update 11:50am CT, July 31: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says a representative for Palmer has “voluntarily contacted” the agency.
Late yesterday we were voluntarily contacted by a rep of Dr. Palmer. We appreciate the cooperation, investigation is ongoing. #CecilTheLion— US Fish and Wildlife (@USFWS) July 31, 2015
Screenshot via Paula French/YouTube