Disgraced Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer has reached out to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and indicated his willingness to cooperate with investigations over his killing of Cecil The Lion, an act that has turned his life topsy-turvy — forcing him to close his dental practice amid protests. While Palmer has remained in hiding since becoming the target of heavy criticism, on Tuesday he said through a statement that he “deeply regrets” taking Cecil’s life.
“I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt,” Palmer said, according to CBS. “I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion.”
Late yesterday we were voluntarily contacted by a rep of Dr. Palmer. We appreciate the cooperation, investigation is ongoing. #CecilTheLion
— US Fish and Wildlife (@USFWS) July 31, 2015
USA Today reports that the Wildlife Service is investigating the case and the Zimbabwe government has called for Walter’s extradition. While an extradition treaty does exist between Zimbabwe and the U.S., it’s only enforceable if the offense is considered illegal in both countries and is punishable by more than one year in prison, according to the treaty. A previous Inquisitr article reports that the White House is considering a petition to extradite Palmer, while PETA wants him “extradited, charged, and, preferably, hanged.”
“We want him tried in Zimbabwe because he violated our laws,” Oppah Muchinguri, Zimbabwe’s environment minister, said in a news conference Friday. “Police should take the first step to approach the prosecutor general, who will approach the Americans. The processes have already started.”
Palmer, 55, an avid trophy hunter and bow-and-arrow marksman, allegedly paid about $50,000 to hunt the beloved lion after it was lured from a national park into an unprotected area. Walter and his hunting party tracked Cecil until they found the wounded lion about 40 hours later, and finished him off. He was later found headless and skinned.
Palmer’s use of a crossbow and arrow to hunt Cecil violated the country’s hunting regulations, according to reports. While Zimbabwe officials have begun the extradition process, whether or not Palmer can be extradited depends on what he’s ultimately charged with. If Walter is charged in the U.S. for the same crime, he would not be extradited but would be tried in U.S. courts instead of in Zimbabwe, David Glazier, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, told USA TODAY in a phone interview.
Authorities in Zimbabwe say Palmer was an accomplice to an illegal hunt, and prosecutors believe bribery was involved because his guides lacked the proper permits and documents to kill a lion legally. Walter’s professional guide has been charged with failing to prevent an illegal hunt, and the owner of the farm where Palmer hunted is expected to face charges within the next week.
Walter’s representative contacted the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service late Thursday, before wildlife authorities in Zimbabwe called for his extradition. The Service will investigate until enough evidence is gathered to conclude that the case is worth prosecuting. If so, they will pass it on to the Department of Justice and the agency will decide how to handle the case.
“The U.S. government looks to me to have pretty robust grounds to prosecute him,” Glazier said.
Glazier is referring to the U.S. Lacey Act, which was established in 1900 and is the law used to protect both American wildlife and wildlife protected by CITES, or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna. The U.S. Wildlife Service will determine whether or not Palmer’s hunting trip and the death of Cecil violated CITES.
Records from the Safari Club International, an organization for big-game hunters, show that in total, Walter has killed 43 animals in Africa, all with a bow and arrow. Now, with international media focused on Palmer, the club said it was suspending his membership and that of his Zimbabwe-based guide.
Walter Palmer’s passion for killing animals has resulted in numerous encounters with the law. Star Tribune reports that in 2008, he pleaded guilty and paid a fine for misleading federal authorities about a bear he killed illegally in Wisconsin. He was also charged with a misdemeanor for fishing without a license in Minnesota’s Otter Tail County.
[Image courtesy Andrew Loveridge/Wildlife Conservation Unit/Slate]