REUTERS The American dentist who killed Cecil the lion was a "foreign poacher" who paid for an illegal hunt and he should be extradited to Zimbabwe to face justice, environment minister Oppah Muchinguri said on Friday.
In Harare's first official comments since Cecil's killing grabbed world headlines this week, Muchinguri said the Prosecutor General had already started the process to have 55-year-old Walter Palmer extradited from the United States.
Muchinguri, a senior member of President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party, described Cecil - a black-maned lion well-known to foreign tourists in the Hwange National Park - as an "iconic attraction".
"The illegal killing was deliberate," she told a news conference. "We are appealing to the responsible authorities for his extradition to Zimbabwe so that he can be held accountable for his illegal actions."
Palmer has admitted killing the 13-year-old predator, who was fitted with a GPS collar as part of an Oxford University study, but said in a statement he had hired professional guides and believed all the necessary hunting permits were in order.
He has not been sighted since his identity was revealed this week by Zimbabwean conservationists.
Muchinguri also said Palmer's use of a bow and arrow to kill the lion, who is said to have been lured out of the national park with bait before being shot, was in contravention of Zimbabwean hunting regulations.
Palmer, a life-long big game hunter, returned to the United States before the authorities were aware of the controversy.
"It was too late to apprehend the foreign poacher because he had already absconded to his country of origin," Muchinguri said.
Social media in the United States and Europe have exploded in outrage and vitriol against Palmer, and the White House said on Thursday it would review a public petition of more than 100,000 signatures to have him extradited.
Under a 1998 treaty between the two countries - which have not enjoyed cordial relations in the latter stages of Mugabe's 36 years in charge - a person can be extradited if they are accused of an offense that carries more than a year in prison.
In Zimbabwe, the illegal killing of a lion is punishable by a mandatory fine of $20,000 and up to 10 years in prison.