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Calls for American dentist to face justice over killing of Zimbabwe's 'Cecil the lion'

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Rich American dentist Walter Palmer should face justice and possibly extradition to Zimbabwe for the illegal killing of ‘Cecil the lion’, according to the heads of conservation and safari groups. The beloved lion was illegally poached from outside the Hwange National Park, in Matabeleland North. Two Zimbabwean men were set to appear in court on poaching charges on Wednesday.

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“We’d like him to face justice if he’s still here in Zimbabwe,” Emmanuel Fundira, president of the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe, told RFI. “If he’s not, then we’d like to ensure that the Americans cooperate with Zimbabwe, in terms of ensuring that they extradite him back to Zimbabwe to face the music.”

Professional Zimbabwean hunter Theo Bronkhorst and local landowner Honest Ndlovu were to appear in court on poaching charges on Wednesday. The two men were allegedly involved in helping to lure lion out of the national park to kill it.

In a statement, Palmer said he had no idea that ‘Cecil the lion’ was a local favourite and said that he had relied on the expertise of professional local guides to make sure the hunt was legal. The seasoned hunter said he would assist the authorities in the US or Zimbabwe if contacted. He did not reveal his whereabouts and attempts to contact his listed home and work numbers in Minnesota were unsuccessful.

“To lure an animal out of a park where it’s safe, by scenting the area, then baiting it up, then shooting it with an arrow – that’s a crime,” Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told RFI. “Especially, when there’s no quota, no permit, or license that’s been issued for this kill.”

Hunting is not illegal in Zimbabwe and is managed through quotas agreed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora which Zimbabwe signed in 1981. However, Palmer did not have the necessary permit or license, according to Fundira.

“We did check with the authorities, which in this particular case is the parks and wildlife management authority of Zimbabwe, which confirmed that this hunt was illegal,” he said.

Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force head Rodrigues said that Cecil’s killer should not be treated any differently from local Zimbabweans who poach big game animals illegally.

“When one of our local community go out and kill an animal to feed his family, he goes to jail for poaching,” he said. “It’s amazing that all these millionaires, who are so bored with life and they’ve got so much money, throwing peanuts out of their pockets, come and commit a crime and then claim that it’s sustainable for the people.”

Rodrigues said an animal like Cecil can create lots of employment for local people and it is short-sighted to kill a lion for 50,000 dollars when it could attract millions of dollars over the years from visitors to the national parks. “We have to protect these animals, let’s utilise them without killing them, let the people benefit,” he said.

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