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US agency to investigate killing of Cecil the lion

Cecil the lion.
Cecil the lion.(Andy Loveridge/Wildlife Conservation Research Unit via AP)

NEW YORK — The US Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday that it was investigating the circumstances surrounding the killing of Cecil, a lion that is thought to have been lured out of its protected habitat in Zimbabwe this month and killed by Walter Palmer, an American dentist and hunter.

“That investigation will take us wherever the facts lead,” said Edward Grace, a deputy chief of law enforcement at the agency. “At this point in time, however, multiple efforts to contact Dr. Walter Palmer have been unsuccessful.”

The killing of Cecil became a global subject of outrage this week, and Palmer, who has said that he believed the killing of the animal was legal, has been the target of a vociferous Internet shaming campaign.

The lion, well known to those who visited Hwange National Park in western Zimbabwe and by many locals, was killed and beheaded — the head intended as a trophy for the hunter.

Wildlife officials and conservationists say some big-game hunters in search of exotic trophies and poachers who brazenly cross into protected parks and other habitats to slice the tusks off elephants and chop the horns off rhinoceroses, leaving the animals to die, are causing a global wildlife crisis.

Citing what it called alarming trends in illicit hunting and poaching of animals, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution Thursday that supporters say would be the start of a global effort to tackle illegal poaching and trafficking of wildlife.

In an address to the General Assembly, Harald Braun, the permanent representative of Germany to the United Nations, said illicit hunting had become a pressing global issue. He described the poaching of an elephant for its tusks near a national park in South Africa this week, and the killings of more than 700 rhinoceroses for their horns in South Africa this year.

“The time to act is now,” Braun said. “No one country, region, or agency working alone will be able to succeed.”

UN officials said that the resolution would foster cooperation among countries to fight money laundering, and that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would recommend actions based on the resolution next year.

Public attention to poaching, often carried out by criminal gangs and cartels seeking the value of ivory and horns, has increased, officials say.

While in Kenya last weekend, President Obama made the tightening of the ivory trade a key point of his visit.

He announced changes that would effectively ban the commercial trade of African elephant ivory in the United States in bid to further close trading loopholes exploited by traffickers.

According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, the global ivory trade drives the killing of up to 35,000 elephants a year across the continent.

In 2012, The New York Times reported on rhinoceros poaching, finding that horns were traded at $30,000 a pound, a price that rendered them more valuable than gold.