The US Fish & Wildlife Service said it had launched an investigation to determine whether the killing of a lion in Zimbabwe was part of a conspiracy to violate a US law.
"The US Fish & Wildlife Service is investigating the circumstances surrounding the killing of Cecil the lion," said Edward Grace, deputy chief of law enforcement at the agency.
The probe will determine if Walter Palmer, a Minnesota dentist connected to the killing, was involved in a conspiracy that would violate the Lacey Act, which prohibits trade in wildlife that has been illegally killed, transported or sold.
According to authorities in Zimbabwe, the lion was allegedly lured out of the Hwange National Park boundaries with a dead animal as bait. The professional Zimbabwean hunter who organized the hunt has been charged in Zimbabwe with "failing to prevent an illegal hunt."
An online petition has gathered more than 850,000 signatures expressing outrage over Cecil's slaughter, while more than 100,000 concerned Americans on the White House website urged the government "to fully cooperate with the Zimbabwe authorities and to extradite Walter Palmer promptly at the Zimbabwe government's request."
Safari Club International, an international hunting organization that Palmer belonged to, said it also supported a probe and that it had revoked his membership.
The deputy chief of law enforcement for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Edward Grace, issued a statement urging Palmer to contact the agency immediately.