US agency probes possible legal violation in lion killing: source

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Reuters -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating whether the killing of a beloved lion by an American dentist in Zimbabwe was part of a conspiracy to violate a U.S. law against illegal wildlife trading, a source close to the case told Reuters on Thursday.

The source said the service is investigating the killing under the Lacey Act, a U.S. law that bars trading in wildlife that has been illegally killed, transported or sold.

The investigation is focused on whether Walter Palmer, a dentist in suburban Minneapolis, was involved in a conspiracy to violate the act, the source said.

Separately, the Fish & Wildlife Service said it has been unable to contact Palmer. He has said he killed the lion, known as Cecil, but said he believed the hunt was legal.

Edward Grace, deputy chief of law enforcement for the service, issued a statement urging Palmer to contact the agency immediately.

The death of the famous lion has sparked international outrage. Protesters gathered outside Palmer's dental practice on Wednesday, calling for him to be extradited to Zimbabwe to face charges of taking part in an illegal hunt.

Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe in a post on Twitter on Thursday called the killing tragic and said his agency will "go where facts lead" in its investigation.

A Zimbabwean hunter has been charged in the African country with failing to prevent the unlawful killing of the lion.

Palmer has not been charged in Zimbabwe or the United States at this point.

Click through the slideshow below to see pictures of Cecil, the beloved lion:

16 PHOTOS
Cecil, Zimbabwe Lion killed by Minnesota dentist
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US agency probes possible legal violation in lion killing: source
BLOOMINGTON, MINN - SEPTEMBER 8: Dentist and trophy hunter Dr. Walter Palmer (L- in black short sleeves) walks into his clinic with private security and members of the media on September 8, 2015 in Bloomington, MN. Palmer came to his clinic for the first time in over a month after killing famed lion Cecil in Zimbabwe. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MINN - SEPTEMBER 8: Dentist and trophy hunter Dr. Walter Palmer (L- in black short sleeves) walks into his clinic with private security and members of the media on September 8, 2015 in Bloomington, MN. Palmer came to his clinic for the first time in over a month after killing famed lion Cecil in Zimbabwe. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MINN - SEPTEMBER 8: Protester Cathy Pierce (C) and other protesters voice their anger after Dr. Walter Palmer walks into his clinic on September 8, 2015 in Bloomington, MN. Palmer came to his clinic for the first time in over a month after killing famed lion Cecil in Zimbabwe. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 05: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) protesters hold pictures of Cecil the Lion as they stand in front of the Department of Interior building to protest against the importing of wild game killed as trophies August 5, 2015 in Washington, DC. Peta is calling on the Fish and Wildlife Service to take steps to end cruel trophy hunting by listing lions as a threatened species and banning the importation of their heads, tails, and skins into the U.S. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Cecil the lion.

(Photo via International Animal Rescue Foundation Africa)

BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 29: Protesters call attention to the alleged poaching of Cecil the lion, in the parking lot of Dr. Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental Clinic on July 29, 2015 in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to reports, the 13-year-old lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed by Dr. Palmer, who had paid at least $50,000 for the hunt. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 29: Protesters place signs on the doors of Dr. Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental Clinic to call attention to the alleged poaching of Cecil the lion on July 29, 2015 in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to reports, the 13-year-old lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed by Dr. Palmer, who had paid at least $50,000 for the hunt. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 29: Protesters call attention to the alleged poaching of Cecil the lion in the parking lot of Dr. Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental Clinic on July 29, 2015 in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to reports, the 13-year-old lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed by Dr. Palmer, who had paid at least $50,000 for the hunt. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 29: Protesters place stuffed animals on the sign of Dr. Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental Clinic to call attention to the alleged poaching of Cecil the lion on July 29, 2015 in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to reports, the 13-year-old lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed by Dr. Palmer, who had paid at least $50,000 for the hunt. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 05: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) protesters hold pictures of Cecil the Lion as they stand in front of the Department of Interior building to protest against the importing of wild game killed as trophies August 5, 2015 in Washington, DC. Peta is calling on the Fish and Wildlife Service to take steps to end cruel trophy hunting by listing lions as a threatened species and banning the importation of their heads, tails, and skins into the U.S. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Cecil the lion from Zimbabwe that was killed by an American Dentist is projected on the Empire State Building, in the 'Projecting Change on the Empire State Building' project, made by the Oscar winning director and founder of Oceanic Preservation Society Louis Psihoyos and producer Fisher Stevens in New York on August 1, 2015. PHOTO/ KENA BETANCUR (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 29: Protesters call attention to the alleged poaching of Cecil the lion, in the parking lot of Dr. Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental Clinic on July 29, 2015 in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to reports, the 13-year-old lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed by Dr. Palmer, who had paid at least $50,000 for the hunt. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 29: Protesters call attention to the alleged poaching of Cecil the lion, in the parking lot of Dr. Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental Clinic on July 29, 2015 in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to reports, the 13-year-old lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed by Dr. Palmer, who had paid at least $50,000 for the hunt. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 29: Protesters call attention to the alleged poaching of Cecil the lion, in the parking lot of Dr. Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental Clinic on July 29, 2015 in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to reports, the 13-year-old lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed by Dr. Palmer, who had paid at least $50,000 for the hunt. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 29: Rachel Augusta leads the protest of the killing of Cecil the lion in the parking lot of hunter Dr. Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental Clinic on July 29, 2015 in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to reports, the 13-year-old lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed by Dr. Palmer, who had paid at least $50,000 for the hunt. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
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