US authorities have opened an investigation into the death of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, as the Minnesota dentist accused of illegally hunting and killing it faced calls to return to Africa and “face justice”.
The head of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Dan Ashe, promised his agency would “go where the facts lead us” in trying to get to the bottom of the killing of the big cat who, with his jet black main, had become a fixture of the Hwange National Park in the west of Zimbabwe. Known affectionately as Cecil, the lion had also been fitted with a tracking collar by researchers at Oxford University.
Walter Palmer, who paid $50,000 (£32,000) to hunt and kill the lion remained in hiding and the agency said it had been unable to contact him. His dental office in Bloomington, a suburb of Minneapolis, was closed and in a message he warned his patients that it would remain so for the foreseeable future.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to investigate whether the dentist may have been part of a conspiracy to violate the 1900 Lacey Act, which bars the trading of wildlife that has been illegally killed. “We are gathering facts about the issue and will assist Zimbabwe officials in whatever manner requested,” said Laury Marshall Parramore, an agency spokeswoman.
Betty McCollum, a Democrat Congresswoman from Minneapolis, said officials should investigate “whether US laws were violated related to conspiracy, bribery of foreign officials, and the illegal hunting of a protected species or animal”. She added: “To bait and kill a threatened animal, like this African lion, for sport cannot be called hunting, but rather a disgraceful display of callous cruelty.”
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said “the entire team that killed the lion Cecil should go to jail, including the Minneapolis dentist”.
The Oxford-based Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, whose staff have worked closely with lions in Hwange and had fitted Cecil’s tracking collar, warned that when one male lion dies, others in the pride may turn on animals associated with it, including its cubs. The researchers said: “Despite our sadness, as scientists, we seek to learn from this event, and to find some benefit from it. We are working hard to study the consequences of Cecil’s death on his pride and their neighbours, so that we learn as much as possible.”
The most controversial animal killings
The most controversial animal killings
1/6 Cincinnati Zoo worker shots and kills Harambe, the 17-year-old gorilla
Harambe, a 17-year-old gorilla was shot and killed by a Cincinnati Zoo worker after a three-year-old boy climbed into a gorilla enclosure and was grabbed and dragged by Harambe. The incident was recorded on video and received broad international coverage and commentary, including controversy over the choice to kill Harambe. A number of primatologists and conservationists wrote later that the zoo had no other choice under the circumstances, and that it highlighted the danger of zoo animals in close proximity to humans and the need for better standards of care
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
2/6 Walt Palmer (left), from Minnesota, who killed Cecil, the Zimbabwean lion (pictured here with another lion shot in Africa)
Walter James Palmer has been named by Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force as the shooter of Cecil, a 13-year-old prized lion. He is now wanted by Zimbabwe officials on poaching charges. The lion was protected and the subject of a decade long study by the Wildlife Unit of Oxford University in the UK. He was outfitted with a GPS collar and was killed in Hwange National Park. The Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority and the Safari Operators Association said that two men were charged with poaching in connection to Mr Palmer
3/6 Kendall Jones hunting images
Kendall Jones, a 19-year-old Texas Tech university student, has provoked worldwide fury after posting pictures of herself smiling next to animals she hunted, including a lion, rhinoceros, antelope, leopard, elephant, zebra and hippopotamus
4/6 Rebecca Francis hunting images
Rebecca Francis, a huntress who has killed dozens of wild animals has been sent death wishes by furious social media users after a picture showing her lying down next to a dead giraffe was circulated. Rebecca Francis has a website and Facebook page dedicated to the animals she has killed in hunts across Africa and America. Francis, a prolific hunter who has also co-hosted the television show Eye of the Hunter, regularly posts pictures of herself posing next to dead bears, giraffes, buffaloes and zebras, among other animals. She uses a bow and arrow to kill her prey
5/6 The slaughter of Marius, an 18-month-old healthy giraffe in Copenhagen Zoo
Copenhagen Zoo made the controversial decision to euthanise a healthy giraffe named Marius, which was later dissected and fed to lions as visitors watched. The slaughter sparked a furious backlash from social media users and zoo staff have received death threats by phone and email. Soon after the incident, Copenhagen Zoo faced an international outcry once again after four healthy lions were put down
6/6 Swiss Dählhölzli zoo kills healthy brown bear cub
A Switzerland zoo faced heavy criticism from animal rights groups, after keepers put down a healthy brown bear cub to spare it from being bullied by its dominant male father. The 360 kg male bear Misha had already killed one of his 11-week old cubs in public and was bullying the second, staff at the zoo said, because he was jealous of the attention the cubs were receiving from their mother, Masha. Both adult brown bears had been donated to Bern’s Dählhölzli zoo in 2009. Campaigners condemned staff there for not separating the cubs, who are being referred to as Baby Bear Two and Baby Bear Three, and their mother from Misha after their birth in January
In Zimbabwe, Mr Palmer’s hunt guide has been charged with illegally luring the lion out of its sanctuary inside the national park. The US embassy in Harare said it had no information about any extradition request for Dr Palmer, but the head of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, Johnny Rodriguez, said that should be the next step. “People should be accountable for whatever crimes, whatever the case is,” he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, adding it was “imperative that Palmer face justice.”
Dr Palmer has said that while he regretted the death of Cecil, he had relied on his guides to make sure his quarry had been legal.
Separately, in a long-scheduled vote, the UN General Assembly last night adopted a resolution to stop illegal wildlife trafficking.Reuse content