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U.S. Agency Probes Killing of Cecil the Lion, As Activists Petition White House

The global outrage over the killing of a famous lion in Zimbabwe by an American hunter continued on Thursday with 150,000 people signing a petition on the White House website calling on the U.S. government to extradite the hunter.

James Palmer, a Minnesota-based dentist, has apologized for shooting the lion, named Cecil, on a recent trophy hunt saying he wasn’t aware the cat carried a celebrity status.

But that has not helped deflect the condemnation. The number of activists picketing at Palmer’s house was escalating, as did worldwide denunciations on social media.

“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,” the White House petition said.

Another petition entitled “Demand Justice for Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe,” demanding a ban on endangered species, had received close to 900,000 signatures late Thursday against a target of one million.

The big cat is considered an endangered species worldwide, and many are wondering why Zimbabwe is allowing its hunting.

“Lions are not endangered species in Zimbabwe and they can be hunted under sport hunting; the other thing is that you need to have a quota. So, a quota is based on scientific and social factors,” explained Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife official, Geoffreys Matipano.

Only elephants and rhinos are considered endangered in Zimbabwe, said Environment Ministry official, Prince Mupazviriho, who rejected charges the government has not been sufficiently enraged by the Cecil’s killing.

“The Parks and Wildlife Authority is seized with this matter,” he said. “We are actually the complainant in this issue.”

Conservationists are now pushing for legislation in Zimbabwe outlawing the hunting of lions.

"The government will have no option but to change the law," said Johnny Rodriguez, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service weighed in Thursday, saying it was investigating the circumstances surrounding the illegal hunt, according to the New York Times.

“That investigation will take us wherever the facts lead,” said Edward Grace, a deputy chief of law enforcement at the agency. “At this point in time, however, multiple efforts to contact Dr. Walter Palmer have been unsuccessful.”

Zimbabwe government officials are not saying if they would seek Palmer’s extradition.

So far only his co-accused, Theo Bronchorst, a professional hunter has been arrested and charged for “failing to prevent an unlawful hunt.” He is out on bail.

A second accused, Honest Ndlovu, is yet to be arraigned. The two are accused of luring the loved lion outside of a protected zone at Hwange National Park for Palmer to kill.

No mention of Palmer has been made in court, officials told VOA.