Environment Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri says Zimbabwe will not file charges against the U.S. dentist who killed the country’s famed lion, Cecil, because his hunting papers were in order.
Muchinguri backtracked on her comments a few months ago that Harare would seek Walter Palmer’s extradition to charge him for a hunt Harare said was illegal and led to Cecil’s death.
The cabinet minister said her office has now established that Palmer’s papers were in order hence Zimbabwe will no longer seek his extradition.
Palmer admitted killing the rare, prized black-maned lion with a bow and arrow on July 1 near Hwange National Park but said he believed the hunt was legal.
Zimbabwean hunter, Theodore Bronkhorst, has been charged in connection with the hunt.
Environment ministry’s permanent secretary, Prince Mupazviriwo referred all questions to Muchinguri who was said to be in a crucial meeting when contacted for comment.
Palmer’s lawyer Givemore Muvhiringi also declined to comment saying he was yet to see the minister’s statement.
But Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force director Johnny Rodriguez told VOA the government should produce the evidence showing Palmer’s hunt was legal if it is no longer going to charge him.
“I’m quite shocked to actually hear that,” said Rodriguez. “How come all of a sudden (they are saying they are not going to seek his extradition). When initially when they investigated they said not all was in order.”
He maintains Palmer and his team broke the law by luring Cecil out of the national park to a place where it would not be illegal to kill him.
“I believe there’s something wrong with the justice system,” he told the VOA.
The 55-year-old Palmer had closed his practice late July after he was publicly identified as the hunter who killed Cecil, drawing widespread criticism on social media.
Large protests became the order of the day at his practice with animal rights advocates targeting both his home and offices in Minnesota.
The practice reopened in mid-August without him but he returned to work early September to a handful of protesters and some public support from patients.