The Obama administration's agency deeply involved in international conservation says it is ready to help the Zimbabwe government following the killing of Cecil, a beloved 13-year-old lion that was apparently killed by an American dentist.
"The [U.S. Fish and Wildlife] Service is deeply concerned about the recent killing of Cecil the lion. We are currently gathering facts about the issue and will assist Zimbabwe officials in whatever manner requested," spokeswoman Laury Parramore said in a statement to National Journal.
"It is up to all of us — not just the people of Africa — to ensure that healthy, wild populations of animals continue to roam the savanna for generations to come," Parramore added.
The agency did not specify what type of aid it might provide, and a message left with Zimbabwe's U.S. embassy was not immediately returned. But the comment shows how the apparent killing of the lion by Walter Palmer, a dentist and hunter from Minnesota, has reached the attention of U.S. officials.
Rep. Betty McCollum, a Minnesota Democrat, is calling on U.S. officials to probe Cecil's killing.
"To bait and kill a threatened animal, like this African lion, for sport cannot be called hunting, but rather a disgraceful display of callous cruelty. For those of us committed to ending poaching of iconic African species I strongly believe the U.S. Attorneys' Office and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should investigate whether U.S. laws were violated related to conspiracy, bribery of foreign officials, and the illegal hunting of a protected species or animal," McCollum said in a statement.
According to multiple press accounts, Palmer lured Cecil out of Hwange National Park by strapping a dead animal to a car as bait, and he shot the lion with a crossbow. The hunting party then tracked the wounded Cecil for 40 hours until Palmer killed the lion with a gun and beheaded him.
Palmer, who has been savaged online, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in a statement that he regrets killing Cecil and had believed he was acting legally. "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," he said.
According to CNN, two men from Zimbabwe who helped Palmer find Cecil were freed on bail Wednesday and said they were innocent of poaching.