Zimbabwe Calls for Extradition of American Hunter Who Killed Cecil the Lion

White House petition reaches more than 168K signatures.

ByABC News
July 31, 2015, 1:04 PM

— -- Zimbabwe is calling for the extradition of the American dentist who admitted killing Cecil the lion as a WhiteHouse.gov petition urging the dentist's extradition surpasses 100,000 signatures.

The process has already begun in Zimbabwe to extradite Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who admitted to killing the beloved lion in Zimbabwe, a cabinet minister said today, according to the Associated Press.

"Unfortunately it was too late to apprehend the foreign poacher as he had already absconded to his country of origin," said Zimbabwe's environment, water and climate minister Oppah Muchinguri, according to the AP.

Muchinguri said they want Palmer to be "made accountable."

"Almost 500,000 people are calling for his extradition and we need this support," Muchinguri said, according to the AP. "We want him tried in Zimbabwe because he violated our laws."

There is an extradition treaty between Zimbabwe and the United States.

Muchinguri said Palmer violated the country's Parks and Wildlife Act, which controls the use of bow and arrow hunting. She also said Palmer, who reportedly paid $50,000 to hunt the lion, also violated the act through financing an illegal hunt. ABC News has been unable to confirm that figure independently.

Palmer said in a statement earlier this week that he "deeply" regretted the pursuit of the early July hunt in Zimbabwe that "resulted in the taking of this lion." He added that he "had no idea" Cecil the lion was a "known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study."

"I hired several professional guides and they secured all proper permits," Palmer said in his statement. "To my knowledge, everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted."

Meanwhile, in the U.S., a petition to extradite Palmer began July 28, and quickly surpassed 100,000 signatures -- meaning the White House will have to respond. As of Friday morning, the petition has more than 168,000 signatures.

The petition says: "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."

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the petition "reached the threshold" that would warrant a response, but he did not offer a time frame. Earnest did note that decisions about prosecution and extradition are made at the Department of Justice.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said today that a representative for Palmer voluntarily contacted the agency on Thursday, after the agency urged Palmer to get in touch.