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Why would Zimbabwe step back from extraditing Cecil's hunter?

Zimbabwean authorities appear to be backing off of extraditing Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer for killing Cecil the lion because it could hurt the country's hunting business.

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    In this July 29, 2015, file photo, artist Mark Balma paints a mural of Cecil, a well-known lion killed by Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer during a guided bow hunting trip in Zimbabwe, as part of a silent protest outside Palmer's office in Bloomington, Minn.
    Ann Heisenfelt/AP/File
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Zimbabwean authorities seem to have cooled off on pursuing the case against Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer, amid fears that extraditing the American bow hunter for killing Cecil the lion could hurt Zimbabwe's hunting business.

It has been a month since Environment, Water and Climate Minister Oppah Muchinguri announced that the police would process paperwork to extradite Palmer for participating in a hunt that authorities here said was illegal. On Monday there were no new developments in the matters, police spokeswoman Charity Charamba told The Associated Press.

"I still have nothing on that case," she said.

The National Prosecuting Authority, which is responsible for processing extradition requests, said Palmer was not on its files because the police had yet to process a docket for Palmer, a dentist from suburban Minneapolis.

In an interview with AP on Sunday in Minneapolis, Palmer said he believes he acted legally and that he was stunned to find out his hunting party had killed a treasured animal in July. Cecil was a fixture in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park and had been fitted with a GPS collar as part of Oxford University lion research.

Pursuing Palmer without a concrete case could rattle potential big-paying customers from the United States, said a Zimbabwean government official and safari operators.

Theo Bronkhorst, a Zimbabwean professional hunter who helped Palmer, has been charged with "failure to prevent an illegal hunt." Honest Ndlovu, whose property is near Hwange park, faces a charge of allowing the lion hunt to occur on his farm without proper authority. The hunters allegedly lured Cecil out of Hwange with an animal carcass.

Palmer's hosts should have ensured the hunt was legal, said Emmanuel Fundira, chairman of the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe.

"These are the people expected to know the rules and advise clients accordingly," he said. "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."

Hunting supports about 800,000 rural Zimbabwean families, said Fundira.

Extraditing Palmer would "be bad for business," a senior official in the ministry of environment, water and climate told AP.

"American hunters spend big. They are a huge market for us," he said, refusing to be named because the killing of Cecil is before the courts. "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."

Rural communities surrounding national parks also cash in from the hunting business. In 1989, the Zimbabwean government, with the aid of the U.S government, set up the Communal Areas Management for Indigenous Resources, known as Campfire, to plow some of the money from hunting into surrounding rural communities.

Campfire says most 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," says Campfire, on its website. "At least half of that revenue goes to the local communities for rural development and environmental conservation."

AP reporter Brian Bakst in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

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