Last updated: 10:02 PM ET, Mon September 07 2015

Cecil the Lion's Killer May Be Off the Hook

Impacting Travel | Michael Isenbek | September 07, 2015

Cecil the Lion's Killer May Be Off the Hook

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Authorities in Zimbabwe have eased efforts to extradite Minnesota dentist/bow hunter Walter Palmer to prosecute him for his role in the death of Cecil the lion, fearing a negative impact on the country’s hunting business, the Associated Press reported.

A month has gone by since Environment, Water and Climate Minister Oppah Muchinguri said police would process paperwork to extradite Palmer for participating in what officials have called an illegal hunt, but police spokesperson Charity Charamba told the AP Monday, "I still have nothing on that case."

The National Prosecuting Authority, Zimbabwe’s processor of extradition requests, told the AP Palmer “was not on its files because the police had yet to process a docket” for the Minneapolis dentist.

Speaking with the AP Sunday, Palmer reiterated his belief that he acted legally in the July incident and was “stunned” to find out the hunting party had slain an animal with such significance.

Cecil was a longtime resident of Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park and wore a GPS collar fitted by Oxford University for research purposes.

Government officials and safari operators agree, going after Palmer without at least a chance of a criminal conviction could scare away customers with deep pockets.

The Zimbabwean natives that hosted Palmer, one a professional hunter, are currently facing charges. "These are the people expected to know the rules and advise clients accordingly," Emmanuel Fundira, chairman of the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe told the AP.

But it may not be so cut-and-dried with foreign visitors.

"Clients may end up thinking twice before coming to Zimbabwe if such cases are not handled carefully. Authorities have to be sure there is a case before pushing for the extradition of these hunters," Fundira said to the AP, adding that hunting supports around 800,000 rural Zimbabwean families.

Speaking anonymously because of the legal case in progress, a senior official in the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate told the AP point-blank that extraditing Palmer would "be bad for business."

"American hunters spend big. They are a huge market for us," he said. "We still want them here. Zimbabwe sends delegations every year to lure those hunters to bring their money here. They will stop coming if the risk of arrest is high."

The AP pointed out that rural communities in the vicinity of national parks profit handsomely from the hunting business. In 1989, Zimbabwe teamed up with the U.S. to create “Communal Areas Management for Indigenous Resources,” known as “Campfire,” to route hunting revenue into these locales.

Campfire’s website says most of the area’s hunting clients are from the U.S, Germany and Spain.

"Foreign sport hunters will pay large sums to hunt Africa's trophy animals, far more than other tourists will pay to view them. A single hunter can spend more than $40,000 on a trophy hunting trip," according to Campfire. "At least half of that revenue goes to the local communities for rural development and environmental conservation."

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