On Friday, Zimbabwe began the process of seeking the extradition of Walter Palmer, the 55-year-old American dentist who killed the country's beloved lion, Cecil. Oppah Muchinguri, Zimbabwe's environment, water and climate minister announced the move in a press conference Friday.
"Unfortunately it was too late to apprehend the foreign poacher as he had already absconded to his country of origin," Muchinguri said, according to Associated Press. "We are appealing to the responsible authorities for his extradition to Zimbabwe so that he be made accountable."
International outrage has swelled since the news of Cecil's death broke Tuesday, and a worldwide petition calling for his killers' accountability and an end to hunting permits has collected nearly a million signatures.
"There has been an outcry. Almost 500,000 people are calling for his extradition and we need this support," Muchinguri said. "We want him tried in Zimbabwe because he violated our laws."
Palmer allegedly bribed two wildlife guides upwards of $55,000 to help him lure Cecil out of the protective confines of Hwange National Park, first unsuccessfully attempting to kill the lion with a bow and arrow and then, 40 hours later, tracking Cecil down and shooting him.
Palmer and his two guides, who have already appeared in court, then skinned and beheaded the animal, leaving the carcass behind. They also attempted to destroy Cecil's GPS tracker, which was being used as part of an Oxford University study, to make it harder to identify the lion.
"I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt. I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt," Palmer said in a statement on Tuesday, according to CBS News. "I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion."
However, this is not the first time Palmer has broken the law while hunting. In 2006, he was charged with a felony after illegally killing a bear in Wisconsin and then lying about it.
"ZANU PF [Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front] is saddened by the killing of our treasure — Cecil the lion," Gadzira Chirumhanzu, spokesman for Zimbabwe's ruling party, told Mic. "No amount of words can bring him back. The party is looking forward to the courts to execute their jurisdiction in a professional manner and send a strong warning to people like the American that crime and greediness does not pay."
Palmer is currently in hiding somewhere in the United States, and his exact whereabouts remains unknown. The director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dan Ashe, tweeted a request for Palmer's cooperation as they independently investigate the death of Cecil.
The question remains as to whether or not the American government will cooperate with Zimbabwe's request to extradite Palmer — once they actually find him.