- Associated Press - Monday, October 12, 2015

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) - Zimbabwe is no longer pressing for the extradition of James Walter Palmer, an American dentist who killed a well-known lion called Cecil, a Cabinet minister said Monday.

Palmer can now safely return to Zimbabwe as a “tourist” because he had not broken the southern African country’s hunting laws, Environment, Water and Climate Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri told reporters in Harare on Monday. Zimbabwe’s police and the National Prosecuting Authority had cleared Palmer of wrongdoing, she said.

Through an adviser, Palmer declined comment.

Palmer was identified as the man who killed Cecil in a bow hunt. Cecil, a resident of Hwange National park in western Zimbabwe, was well-known to tourists and researchers for his distinctive black mane.

Muchinguri-Kashiri had said in July that Zimbabwean police and prosecutors would work to get Palmer returned to Zimbabwe to face poaching charges.

On Monday, she told reporters in Harare that Palmer can now safely return to Zimbabwe as a “tourist” because he had not broken this wildlife-rich southern African country’s hunting laws.

“He is free to come, not for hunting, but as a tourist,” Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri told reporters. “It turned out that Palmer came to Zimbabwe because all the papers were in order.”

Cat expert Alan Rabinowitz, chief executive of the New York-based cat conservation organization Panthera, said in response that “the bar must be raised” for any legal hunting of wild cats because wild lion populations are declining in most parts of Africa.

“Cecil the lion’s killing, sadly, is but one case in a broad-based human assault on these majestic animals, even where they are supposedly protected,” Rabinowitz said in a statement Monday.

Palmer was the subject of extradition talk in Zimbabwe and a target of protests in the United States, particularly in Minnesota, where he has a dental practice, after he was identified as the man who killed Cecil the lion in a bow hunt. Cecil roamed in Hwange National Park in western Zimbabwe.

Messages left Monday with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which was handling a U.S. investigation into Palmer, weren’t immediately returned.

Theo Bronkhorst, a Zimbabwean professional hunter who was a guide for Palmer, returned to court last week on charges of allowing an illegal hunt. His lawyer Perpetua Dube argued that the charges are too vague and should be dropped.

___

AP writers Brian Bakst in St. Paul and Amy Forliti in Minneapolis contributed to this report.


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