Last month, a dentist from Eden Prairie, Minnesota shot and killed a 13-year-old male lion in Zimbabwe, drawing what can only be described as international outrage after government officials confirmed that the act was illegal and involved a beloved tourist attraction named Cecil.
Almost overnight, Walter Palmer found himself one of the most sought-after men in the world. After arresting the professional hunter who guided Palmer and the landowner that facilitated the trip, Zimbabwe authorities are now calling for Palmer to be extradited. In addition, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has been reportedly trying to contact Palmer for days and had to post on Twitter and Facebook in an attempt to draw his attention. The agency has not yet specified what kind of charges Palmer could face, but at least one group is calling for the ultimate punishment. In a recent press release, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) called for Palmer’s extradition, conviction, and hanging.
“Hunting is a coward’s pastime. If, as has been reported, this dentist and his guides lured Cecil out of the park with food so as to shoot him on private property, because shooting him in the park would have been illegal, he needs to be extradited, charged, and, preferably, hanged,” PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said.
The statement drew immediate controversy. Many disagreed with PETA’s stance, arguing that Palmer has yet to be tried and that few facts have come to the surface since Cecil the lion was shot on July 1. Palmer himself said in a statement that he believed that the kill was legal and had relied on his guide to obtain the required permits, which did not happen. Since news of Cecil’s death spread late last month, Palmer has received numerous death threats, was forced to close his business, and is now believed to be in hiding in an undisclosed location. Some observers, including hunters, conservationists, and animal rights activists, say they are withholding judgement until Palmer comes forward and court proceedings begin.
The USFWS confirmed that Palmer voluntarily contacted the agency last Friday. He has not yet been charged with a crime, but the United States is under pressure from Zimbabwean officials, who say that the case could have an impact on US-Zimbabwe relations.
“We are appealing to the responsible authorities for his extradition to Zimbabwe so that he [can] be made accountable,” Oppah Muchinguri, the nation’s minister of environment and climate, told reporters at a press conference last week.
You can see a video of Cecil below:
According to the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF), a conservation group operating in the country, Palmer and his guide, Theo Bronchorst, lured the lion out of Hwange National Park by strapping an animal carcass to their car. The dark-maned male lion was a local favorite named Cecil. When they arrived on land owned by Honest Ndlovu, the second man arrested by officials, Palmer shot the lion with a bow and arrow. The shot injured the lion, but the animal remained alive until it was tracked down and killed 40 hours later. The men were also accused by many organizations of attempting to destroy a GPS collar on the lion being used for research, believed by some as an attempt to hide their kill. The lion’s remains were later confiscated by the government.
“Walter Palmer apparently paid USD $50,000 for the kill and we assume Theo Bronkhorst received this money. Cecil, who was known all over the world would have earned millions of dollars just from sightseeing. There was apparently no quota or licence for a lion to be killed in this area,” stated the ZCTF.
The kill also drew condemnation from numerous hunting and conservation organizations. Safari Club International, an advocacy organization for hunters, announced last week that it has suspended the memberships of both Palmer and Bronkhorst, and is urging a full investigation into the case.
“Safari Club International condemns unlawful and unethical hunting practices. SCI supports only legal hunting practices and those who comply with all applicable hunting rules and regulations, and SCI believes that those who intentionally take wildlife illegally should be prosecuted and punished to the maximum extent allowed by law,” the organization stated.
PETA was less diplomatic with its wording.
“To get a thrill at the cost of a life, this man gunned down a beloved lion, Cecil with a high-powered weapon,” Newkirk said. “All wild animals are beloved by their own mates and infants, but to hunters like this overblown, over-privileged little man, who lack empathy, understanding, and respect for living creatures, they are merely targets to kill, decapitate, and hang up on a wall as a trophy. The photograph of this dentist, smiling over the corpse of another animal, who, like Cecil, wanted only to be left in peace, will disgust every caring soul in the world.”
Early on in the reporting of the story, some news sources erroneously stated that Cecil was killed with a rifle or crossbow, instead of a compound bow, which is rarely considered a “high-powered weapon.”
Experts are unsure whether or not the US government will agree to extradite Palmer, but one thing is certain: the death penalty is not on the table. According to NBC News, the maximum punishment for lion poaching in Zimbabwe is a $20,000 fine and up to a decade in prison.