Zimbabwe calls for extradition of Cecil the lion's killer

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Minnesota Dentist Wanted for Killing Cecil the Lion

In Harare's first official comments since Cecil's killing grabbed world headlines this week, Muchinguri said the Prosecutor General had started the process to have 55-year-old Walter Palmer extradited from the United States.

Muchinguri, a senior member of President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party, described Cecil, a rare black-maned lion well-known to tourists in the Hwange National Park, as an "iconic attraction".

"The illegal killing was deliberate," she said at a news conference. "We are appealing to the responsible authorities for his extradition to Zimbabwe so that he can be held accountable for his illegal actions."

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Cecil, Zimbabwe Lion killed by Minnesota dentist
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Zimbabwe calls for extradition of Cecil the lion's killer
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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Palmer has admitted killing the 13-year-old lion, who was fitted with a GPS collar as part of an Oxford University study.

He said in a statement issued by a publicist early this week that he had hired professional guides and believed the necessary hunting permits were in order.

The Minnesota dentist and trophy hunter has not been seen since his identity was revealed this week by Zimbabwean conservationists.

On Friday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is investigating the killing of the lion, said it had been contacted by a representative for Palmer on Thursday.

In Washington, a Zimbabwean diplomat said the embassy was not aware that extradition proceedings had been initiated by his government. Richard Chibuwe, deputy chief of the mission, said Zimbabwe takes the case very seriously and noted that two Zimbabwean men face court proceedings for helping Palmer.

On Wednesday, a Zimbabwean court charged local professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst with failing to prevent Palmer from unlawfully killing Cecil.

"People really feel strongly that he must also face trial," Chibuwe said of Palmer in a telephone interview.

The U.S. Justice Department said it does not comment on extradition requests. Palmer must be charged in Zimbabwe before he can be extradited.

Muchinguri said Palmer's use of a bow and arrow to kill the lion, who is said to have been lured out of Hwange National Park with bait before being shot, contravened Zimbabwean hunting regulations.

Palmer, a lifelong big game hunter, returned to the United States before the authorities were aware of the controversy.

"It was too late to apprehend the foreign poacher because he had already absconded to his country of origin," Muchinguri said.

Cecil's death has sparked global outrage, with intense social media reaction against Palmer, protests outside his practice, and calls for him to be extradited.

The White House said on Thursday it would review a public petition with more than 100,000 signatures demanding Palmer's extradition.

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Will U.S. officials answer extradition calls for Cecil the lion's killer?

Under a 1998 treaty between the United States and Zimbabwe, which have not enjoyed cordial relations in the latter part of Mugabe's 36 years in charge, a person can be extradited if he or she is accused of an offence that carries more than a year in prison.

In Zimbabwe, the illegal killing of a lion is punishable by a mandatory fine of $20,000 and up to 10 years in prison.

LEGAL, POLITICAL HURDLES

Lawyer Alec Muchadehama said no American had been extradited to Zimbabwe since the treaty was signed, and that Harare would face legal and political hurdles with Palmer.

First, it has to apply to U.S. courts and satisfy them that Palmer committed an offence and that he would be jailed for more than a year if convicted. Courts in Zimbabwe consider a fine first for lion poachers before imposing a jail term, he said.

"They (U.S. courts) may actually doubt the competence of the judiciary here to try him in an objective manner, particularly given these prejudicial pronouncements that the politicians are already making," said Muchadehama.

As with many African countries, Zimbabwe issues annual hunting permits for big game such as elephant, buffalo and lion, arguing that the revenue generated can be used for wildlife conservation.

Last year, the southern African nation, which is still recovering from billion-percent hyperinflation a decade ago, earned $45 million from hunting, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority head Edison Chadziya told reporters.

Zimbabwe had an estimated 2,000 lions on private and government-owned reserves and issued hunting quotas of 50 to 70 lions every year, Chadziya said.

However, permitted trophy hunting is far from universal in Africa.

The government in neighboring Botswana where it is illegal said the Cecil case illustrates the risks.

"It is our stern belief that safari hunting of threatened species such as lions has the potential to undermine our regional anti-poaching efforts as it encourages illegal trade, which in turn promotes poaching," it said in a statement.

Despite global media coverage of Cecil's killing, the big cat's untimely demise has gone largely unnoticed in Zimbabwe, where average annual income is just over $1,000 and unemployment is higher than 80 percent.

(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Julia Edwards and Ayesha Rascoe in Washington; Editing by Ed Cropley, Giles Elgood, Toni Reinhold)

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