The US dentist who killed a lion in Zimbabwe should be extradited to face charges, Zimbabwe’s Environment Minister Oppah Muchinguri has said.
Walter Palmer’s extradition was being sought so that he could “be held accountable for his illegal action,” she said.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service was contacted by a representative of Mr Palmer on Thursday.
The contact comes as US authorities continue to investigate the hunt.
Mr Palmer, from Minnesota, is believed to have paid about $50,000 (£32,000) to hunt the lion, known as Cecil.
He says he thought the hunt was legal and was unaware Cecil was protected.
At a news conference in the capital, Harare, Ms Muchinguri referred to Mr Palmer as a “foreign poacher”.
“As we frantically try to protect our wildlife from organised gangs such as this one, there are people… who can connive to undermine Zimbabwean laws,” she said.
“One can conclude with confidence that Dr Palmer, being an American citizen, had a well-orchestrated agenda which would tarnish the image of Zimbabwe and further strain the relationship between Zimbabwe and the USA,” Ms Muchinguri added.
She also said Mr Palmer’s use of a bow and arrow against Cecil was in contravention of Zimbabwean hunting regulations, Reuters reports.
Cecil the lion
- A major tourist attraction in Hwange National Park – Zimbabwe’s largest game reserve
- The 13-year-old animal was renowned for being friendly towards visitors
- Recognisable because of his large size and distinctive black mane
- Led two prides containing six lionesses and 12 cubs along with another lion, Jericho
- Was being monitored as part of an Oxford University study into lion conservation
Two Zimbabwean men have been implicated in the death of the lion.
A professional hunter has been charged with failing to prevent an illegal hunt – which he denies – and prosecutors are deciding on the exact charges the landowner should face.
“I don’t believe I failed in any duties at all, I was engaged by a client to do a hunt for him and we shot an old male lion that I believed was past his breeding age,” the Zimbabwean hunter Theo Bronkhorst told the AFP news agency.
Tracking the pride
There has been a huge online backlash against Mr Palmer. The dental practice he runs in Minneapolis has been closed since he was named as the hunter who shot Cecil.
On Thursday, the White House said it would review a public petition to extradite the American dentist after more than 100,000 signed it.
But spokesman Josh Earnest said it was up to the US justice department to respond to any extradition order.
Meanwhile, US billionaire philanthropist Tom Kaplan has agreed to match every dollar donated to the UK conservation unit which was tracking Cecil until he was killed.
He capped the offer to Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at $100,000 (£64,000).