by Lady Michelle Jennifer Santos
30 July 2015, Washington D.C. (TSR) – The White House said on Thursday that it will consider to extradite the American dentist who illegally killed “Cecil,” a Zimbabwean lion, on July 1.
Already the most hated man in the world for killing Cecil the lion within hours after the Zimbabwe authorities revealed his name, Dr. Walter Palmer is now also fast on his way to becoming one of America’s most wanted.
The Minnesota dentist has been in hiding since he was identified as the killer of Africa’s most famous lion and now the US Fish and Wildlife Service has begun its own hunt for the elusive Trophy Hunter after announcing it has opened an investigation into him.
The federal agency confirmed it has not spoken to him and demanded the reviled hunter pick up the phone and contact them as a matter of urgency.
However, the American is nowhere to be found in any of his mansions in Minnesota and Florida or his Minneapolis dental practice. He closed his Bloomington surgery at which he is the sole practitioner. His company’s (River Bluff Dental) website was also taken down, due to the controversy and now his international infamy, for it told where to find him when he wasn’t in the office. Nor has he made a television appearance in an effort to limit the damage to his own livelihood and safety and the PR firm he hired to deal with the fallout split with him.
Conservation groups were outraged following the killing, especially after it transpired Cecil had been lured out of the national park.
The incident is currently being investigated by Zimbabwean authorities and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Feds are investigating whether the killing of Cecil was part of a conspiracy to violate a U.S. law called Lacey Act, that bars trading in wildlife that has been illegally killed, transported or sold.
Meanwhile, the United States and Zimbabwe also have a bilateral extradition treaty in effect since April 2000. Under the terms, a crime committed in Zimbabwe must be illegal in the United States and vice-versa for an extradition to be considered. This principal is called ‘dual criminality’.
Palmer reportedly paid $55,000 to take part in the lion hunt, and has spent thousands more on others. In 2009 he paid $44,000 at auction to shoot an elk and told the New York Times that he learnt to shoot at the age of five.
The local prosecutors believe it was a crime because the lion is a resident of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, a protected area. Cecil was shot with Palmer’s bow and arrow after being lured out of its protected zone, only to die 40 hours later from a bullet, and all the while wearing a GPS collar which ought to have made it immune to a hunter’s fancy.
Johnny Rodrigues, head of Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, said: “They tied a dead animal to their vehicle to lure Cecil out of the park and they scented an area about half a kilometre from the park.”
Local hunter Theo Bronkhorst appeared in a courthouse in Hwange on Wednesday and was charged with ‘failing to supervise, control and take reasonable steps to prevent an unlawful hunt’.
He pleaded not guilty to the charge and was set free after posting $1,000 bail and depositing his passport with the court. He will return to court on August 5 for trial.
Game park owner Honest Ndlovu, who is also accused of assisting Palmer, was not charged on Wednesday and parks officials said he would first testify for the state and be charged later.
This is not the first time Palmer committed a federal violation.
According to U.S. court records, Palmer pleaded guilty in 2008 to making false statements to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about a black bear he fatally shot in western Wisconsin.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said it is up to the Justice Department to respond to an extradition order, raising the possibility that Dr. Palmer would be sent to Zimbabwe, should the African nation make a formal request.
More than 141,000 signatures have been gathered so far for the bid to send Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer to the African country.
It urges Secretary of State John Kerry and Attorney General Loretta Lynch to extradite the trophy hunter.
The petition has exceeded the required 100,000 signatures just in 24 hours, and the White House has said it will respond to all petitions that meet that level.
The petition reads:
“Cecil the lion, a resident of Zimbabwe’s national park, and an national icon was poached and killed this week.
“Media reports in the Guardian, Wall Street Journal and elsewhere have identified American Walter Palmer, a dentist from Minneapolis, MN as the poacher.
“He is alleged to have lured Cecil from the safety of the national park to kill him. Two of Palmer’s local accomplices are already in custody.
“Zimbabwe authorities now actively seeking Palmer in connection with this incident.
“We urge the Secretary Of State John Kerry and the Attorney General Loretta Lynch to fully cooperate with the Zimbabwe authorities and to extradite Walter Palmer promptly at the Zimbabwe government’s request.”
Africa Lions under threat
Cecil was the most popular and major tourist attraction in Hwange National Park – Zimbabwe’s largest game reserve. The 13-year-old animal was renowned for being friendly towards visitors and seemed to have no problem with human contact, never bothering anybody.
Recognisable because of his large size and distinctive black mane, Cecil led two prides containing six lionesses and 12 cubs along with another lion, Jericho. He was being monitored as part of an Oxford University study into lion conservation.
As a result of Palmer’s action, Conservationists lost another tagged lion in their study, and several cubs will lose if they haven’t already lost their lives as the new male lion, Jericho, takes over the pride.
According to figures published by National Geographic, 34 of their 62 tagged lions died during the study period – 24 were shot by sport hunters, reported by The Telegraph.
Globally, the African lion is listed as vulnerable, with rapid population declines in both western and eastern Africa.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates that trophy-hunting tourists legally kill some 600 lions each year though the figure is several years old and the actual number is probably a little bit higher than that, National Post reported.
African lions have largely declined in population across the continent, mostly because of habitat loss and conflict with humans. Often, lions kill livestock and local communities retaliate by killing the lion or its pride.
Given that there are only about 35,000 lions left in Africa, this represents an annual loss of roughly 2 percent of the total lion population to legal hunting,which adds more human-induced mortality, and a considerably larger share of the population of healthy adult male lions, which hunters typically prize.
The dwindling lion population cannot sustain hunting losses like this indefinitely, the IUCN found in its report.
The US Fish and Wildlife service declined to list African lions as “endangered,” which would have banned the importation of recreational lion trophies, but listed as “threatened” instead under the federal Endangered Species Act last October under section 4(d) of the act, which, “will establish a permitting mechanism for the importation of sport-hunted lion trophies, provided that the lions originate from countries with a scientifically sound management plan for African lions”, according to a 2014 release from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The service said sport hunting was not found to be a threat at the time, and the “threatened” status allows the domestic trade in lion trophies to continue.
Kathleen Garrigan, spokesperson for the conservation group African Wildlife Foundation, said listing the African lion as threatened would not result in “a blanket ban” on importing hunting trophies, The Guardian reported.
These tourist hunters usually have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to make these trips, and a ban on bringing home trophies might deter them.
Earlier this year, Emirates Airlines stopped carrying hunting trophies of elephants, rhinos, lions and tigers on its planes. South African Airways, which previously banned customers from transporting hunting trophies, lifted the embargo on 22 July.
Father-of-two Dr. Walter “Cecil killer” Palmer, is a dentist up in Bloomington, Minnesota. He is a member of the affluent Republican Party funder Safari International Club.
The Club maintains an online record book where hunters can track their kills of lions and other big game animals and compare their rankings with other hunters and there are records of over 2,000 lions killed in its online record book.
A November 2014 blog post highlights the top 10 African lions killed, with photos of hunters posed next to their prizes.
Palmer has hunted and killed dozens of beasts over the years, including a bison, a leopard and an elk.
Palmer pleaded guilty to federal charges in 2008 related to the poaching of a black bear in Wisconsin two years earlier. Palmer and others transported the bear, which was killed 40 miles outside of a legal hunting zone, to a registration station inside the legal area. Palmer was sentenced to one year of probation and fined nearly $3,000.
In the spring of 2003, Palmer was convicted in Otter Tail County in western Minnesota and paid a small fine for fishing without a license, a misdemeanour.
Palmer was listed as a member of the trophy hunting organisation Safari Club International. His profile on SCI’s website lists 43 kills, including caribou, moose, deer, buffalo, a polar bear and mountain lion. SCI announced Wednesday that it was suspending the memberships of Palmer and his Zimbabwe-based guide.
State records show Palmer has held hunting and fishing licenses in Minnesota, Florida and Alaska.
In 2009, Palmer agreed to a settlement with the Minnesota Board of Dentistry over allegations that he sexually harassed a receptionist. She alleged that Palmer made comments about her breasts, buttocks and genitalia. Without admitting guilt, Palmer settled and paid $127,500 to the woman, who also was his patient. The settlement included references to his bear-hunting conviction and “substandard record keeping.”
Zimbabwe authorities, however, have not announced any charges against Palmer, only saying they want to speak with him and the U.S. embassy was not aware of any extradition requests. Yet.
While the world is in outrage, Zimbabwe residents are bemused and baffled at the fuss over Cecil according to a Star Tribune report:
“It’s so cruel, but I don’t understand the whole fuss, there are so many pressing issues in Zimbabwe — we have water shortages, no electricity and no jobs — yet people are making noise about a lion?” said Eunice Vhunise, a Harare resident. “I saw Cecil once when I visited the game park. I will probably miss him. But honestly the attention is just too much.”
Most people questioned in downtown Harare hadn’t actually heard about the lion and said they were too busy trying to make a living to care about it, the report said.
Zimbabwe has experienced an economic meltdown over the last few years which closed many companies and left two thirds of the population working in the informal economy while battling acute water and electricity shortages:
“It’s very sad that the American chose to travel all the way to kill our animals,” said Clinton Manyuchi. He noted that the lions were needed to bring in tourism and Palmer should be fined with the money going toward animal conservation.
The lion’s death has not registered much with the locals – and for most Zimbabweans the name is more associated with the British imperialist diamond digger Cecil John Rhodes, serving as a reminder that the country once bore the name Rhodesia, BBC reported.
Indeed for the Zimbabwe press this explains “the saturation coverage on the demise of his namesake“, and they have been reminding us that tourism and hunting are “mired in elitism“.
As names go, it was a curious choice for a Zimbabwean lion – it would be like Asmara Zoo calling a lion Benito in a not so subtle nod to Mussolini, Eritrea’s Italian coloniser.
One hundred years ago the colonisers were wiping out animals as a kind of rite of passage throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
“Safari cool” was popularised by the 26th US President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt and American writer Ernest Hemingway, before hunting as conservation became acceptable.
Hunting, and to a large extend, conservation, remains a “white man’s game” throughout southern Africa. Despite the divided trenches of “to hunt” or “not to hunt”, money is the bottom line. It brings in $616m (£395m) into South Africa’s national coffers every year and trophy hunting is permitted all year round in Zimbabwe.
The professional hunters are often white Zimbabweans, white South Africans or white Zambians who, in turn are visited by other white folk with huge disposable income – like the cricketer Glen McGrath or the former Spanish King Juan Carlos – or the American dentist Dr. Walter Palmer from Minnesota who paid $55,000 to kill Cecil.
This hunting culture “elitist” consists of visitors who ghost in on chartered flights from South Africa, live in lodges far from the locals, kill wild game and head back to their Western capitals to await the delivery of their severed heads.
Today, American tourists — wealthy ones, given the high costs involved — account for the majority of lions killed for sport in Africa. A 2011 report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare found that between 1999 and 2008, Americans brought home lion “trophies” — heads, pelts and whatnot — representing 64 per cent of all African lions killed for sport during that period, National Post reported.
The vast sums of money involved has a double-edged impact on Zimbabwe’s struggling economy.
Just how much of the cash is ending up in the national coffers or helping conservation efforts is unknown, but it is also true that a scramble to own game ranches has been at play now for some time amongst Zimbabwe’s powerful.
The first lady herself was accused of allegedly displacing farm workers to make way for wild animals as she tried to turn the land into a game ranch. A court order has halted the evictions, which government has denied were linked to Grace Mugabe.
The most notorious lion in Zimbabwe, ironically called the man eater “Maswera Sei”, meaning “How was your day?”, roamed villages in Kariba eating people at sunset because of old age.
Thanks to the wrath of social media, the avid trophy hunting dentist now feels like a hunted animal himself by the spirit of Cecil – through the mobilised humans, with a roar, “How was your day, Palmer?”