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2nd American Accused of Killing Lion Illegally in Zimbabwe

  • Victor Beattie

FILE - Cecil, a black-maned lion at Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, was killed this summer by American hunter Walter Palmer. The Zimbabwe National Parks agency shared the 2012 photo.

FILE - Cecil, a black-maned lion at Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, was killed this summer by American hunter Walter Palmer. The Zimbabwe National Parks agency shared the 2012 photo.

Zimbabwe authorities, who recently requested that Washington extradite a Minnesota dentist for allegedly poaching a rare, black-maned lion, have accused a second American of illegally killing another lion.

Pennsylvania medical doctor Jan Casimir Seski, a bow hunter, has been accused of illegally killing a lion near Hwange National Park in April. Safari organizer and landowner Headman Sibanda has been arrested in the case.

The announcement follows last week's revelation that dentist and bow hunter Walter Palmer killed a locally popular, black-maned lion in early July.

The killings have generated an international debate over trophy hunting and have prompted Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority to suspend hunting of lions, leopards and elephants around Hwange.

Guide faces trial

In a statement last week, Palmer said he believed he was acting legally when he killed Cecil on July 1. He said he used professional guides and secured all proper permits.

On Wednesday, guide Theo Bronkhorst faces trial in Zimbabwe on a charge of failing to prevent an illegal hunt with Palmer. In an interview with the French news agency AFP, he denied allegations that they lured the wounded Cecil out of Hwange and killed him with a gun. He has pleaded not guilty.

Conservationist Jack Hanna, who'd directed the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, said Sunday on the ABC newscast "This Week" that the lion population has declined dramatically in the last 70 years.

"In 1947, when I was born, there were about 450,000 lions" worldwide, he said. The number had dropped to 100,000 in the mid-1970s, he added, and fewer than 30,000 remain today.

He urged "immediately considering the loss of lions," perhaps redistributing some from areas where they're plentiful to supportive habitats where they're otherwise disappearing.

Hanna called for more careful consideratin of trophy hunting, in which parts of a slain animal, such as the skin, antlers or head, are kept for display.

"I'm not saying an end to everything," he said. "The predator-prey relationship is messed up in a lot of places, so you have to work on that."

Prospects for Palmer

Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating the Palmer case. The dentist has not been seen in public since the story broke last week. His office is closed and he reportedly has received death threats.Comments have flooded the Twitter hashtag #CecilTheLion.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner on Friday declined to discuss Zimbabwe's request that Palmer be sent there for trial.

More broadly, he said extradition requests are received through diplomatic channels, and State works closely with the Justice Department to determine whether they meet treaty requirements. If so, the Justice Department requests that a U.S. court determine whether the individual is extraditable. After those judicial proceedings, the secretary of state makes the final decision on extradition.

"Obviously, humanitarian concerns and the ability of an individual to receive a fair trial may be considered at this stage of the process," Toner said.

Jens David Ohlin, a professor at Cornell University Law School in New York state, said Palmer could be extraditable if what is alleged in Zimbabwe can also be considered a crime in the United States, punishable by at least one year in prison.

Palmer could use further legal tools, Ohlin added.

"He can lobby the Justice Department and he can lobby the State Department, or his lawyers can, and ask them to block the extradition request and to not comply with it," Olin said. Or, Palmer's lawyers could fight extradition if he’s been arrested in the United States. After being brought to a local court, Palmer could contest extradition, "and he could say there is some defect in the process."

Legislation proposed

In Washington, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey has introduced legislation to halt illegal big-game deaths by American trophy hunters.The CECIL Animal Trophies Act would expand import bans to species proposed for listing as threatened or endangered, as well as those already endangered.

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