The killer of Cecil the lion that has been excoriated around the world in recent days may face Zimbabwean justice for his crime. Zimbabwe’s government has asked that Walter Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota who has admitted to killing the animal, be returned to Africa to be tried.
“We are appealing to the responsible authorities for his extradition to Zimbabwe so that he can be held accountable for his illegal action,” environment minister Oppah Muchinguri said on Friday, as Reuters reported.
Though it perhaps seems unlikely that the United States would send one of its citizens to face a court in a nation governed by corrupt dictator Robert Mugabe … it might.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “is deeply concerned about the recent killing of Cecil the lion,” the agency said in a statement this week, as the Huffington Post reported. “We are currently gathering facts about the issue and will assist Zimbabwe officials in whatever manner requested.”
Ed Grace, chief of law enforcement for the agency, told The Washington Post on Thursday that U.S. investigators have been trying to reach Palmer, but haven’t been able to find him. “We’ve made repeated attempts to try and get in contact with him,” Grace said.
Grace also said the State Department is looking into the matter in Africa.
As of Thursday, Palmer’s whereabouts were unknown; the Huffington Post wrote that “he appears to be in hiding” after saying he “had no idea that the lion … was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt.” Palmer, who ran afoul of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2009 for “lying about a bear kill,” the agency said, has said “relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt.”
Muchinguri, however, also took issue with Palmer’s use of a bow-and-arrow to hunt Cecil. This is against Zimbabwe’s hunting regulations, she said.
“It was too late to apprehed the foreign poacher because he had already absconded to his country of origin,” Muchinguri said.
According to a Huffington Post analysis, Palmer is a legitimate target for extradition because of the principle of dual criminality. In other words, what he did that was illegal in Zimbabwe is also illegal in the United States. One international law professor’s advice to Palmer: “Plead guilty, and pay a huge fine, and make restitution, and a public apology.”
If that prescription lets Palmer avoid Zimbabwean jail, it’s perhaps a good one. Zimbabwe’s jails do not sound very nice.
“I had left the cells with a case of scabies, an infestation of microscopic mites that swelled my hands and wrists to nearly twice their size,” Barry Bearak, a journalist jailed in Harare, wrote in the New York Times in 2008 in a piece called “In Zimbabwe Jail: A Reporter’s Ordeal.” “In the meantime, Zimbabwe is beset with paroxysms of violence. Thuggery, torture and murder are familiar implements in Robert Mugabe’s tool kit. Political opponents are being brutalized, as are everyday people whose voting defied him.”