A dentist from Minnesota is accused of paying $55,000 to hunt down and kill a famed lion in Zimbabwe.
“Cecil the Lion” was killed in early July, authorities said. Dr. Walter Palmer, 55, has admitted to shooting the lion, but said it was legal. Nonetheless, Palmer faced the wrath of the Internet for several weeks.
“What he’ll tell you is that he had the proper legal permits and he had hired several professional guides, so he’s not denying that he may be the person who shot this lion. He is a big-game hunter; he hunts the world over,” Palmer’s spokesman told The Guardian in a statement.
A professional hunter and the land owner where the lion was killed have been criminally charged.
On July 31, Zimbabwean authorities said they will try to extradite Palmer to face criminal charges for the illegal hunt. But then on October 13, officials in Zimbabwe said they would not charge Palmer.
Palmer’s office re-opened and he returned to work in early September.
Here’s what you need to know about Palmer and Cecil’s death:
1. The Lion Was Left Skinned & Headless on the Outskirts of the National Park
Cecil the Lion was found beheaded and skinned on the outskirts of the Hwange national park, authorities said. The hunt occurred around July 6.
“They went hunting at night with a spotlight and they spotted Cecil,” Johnny Rodrigues, a spokesman for the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told The Guardian. “They tied a dead animal to their vehicle to lure Cecil out of the park and they scented an area about half a kilometre from the park.”
Rodrigues said Palmer first shot Cecil with a crossbow, but it did not kill him. They then “tracked him down and found him 40 hours later” and shot him with a rifle, Rodrigues said.
The lion’s head has not been found. Cecil was originally believed to have been killed by a Spanish poacher.
The charity Lion Aid says on its website that it will be difficult to prosecute the person who paid for the hunt, because the client did what the professional hunter tells him to do.
“A client usually has no idea about the laws and regulations of the country he is hunting in – he just buys a safari and then places himself in the hands of his professional hunter guide. Finding the client could be interesting to let him tell his side of the story, but in terms of legal prosecution this person is hardly important,” Lion Aid says.
Palmer, of Eden Prairie, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he plans to dispute some of what is being said later Tuesday.
“Obviously, some things are being misreported,” he said.
Palmer later issued a statement about the hunt, according to KSTP-TV:
In early July, I was in Zimbabwe on a bow hunting trip for big game. I hired several professional guides and they secured all proper permits. To my knowledge, everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted.
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. I have not been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or in the U.S. about this situation, but will assist them in any inquiries they may have. Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion.
The 13-year-old Cecil the lion has been collared as part of an Oxford University research project the university has run since 1999 in Zimbabwe, The Guardian reports. It was a beloved figure in the Hwange park and was often photographed by tourists.
“He never bothered anybody,” Johnny Rodrigues, of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told The Telegraph. “He was one of the most beautiful animals to look at.”
The conservation task force told The Guardian that Cecil had several cubs.
Initially there were fears that Cecil’s cubs may be killed by Jericho, so that Jericho could insert his bloodline into the pride.
“The saddest part of all is that now that Cecil is dead, the next lion in the hierarchy, Jericho, will most likely kill all Cecil’s cubs so that he can insert his own bloodline into the females,” the task force said.
“That’s how it works… it’s in the wild; it’s nature taking its course,” Rodrigues told the BBC.
But the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said Jericho was protecting the cubs after Cecil’s death until Jericho was also shot dead on August 1. Read more about his death at the link below:
2. The Hunters Allegedly Tried to Destroy Cecil’s Collar to Hide the Evidence
A professional hunter and the owner of the land where Cecil was hunted are facing criminal charges in Zimbabwe, authorities said. Authorities say the hunters tried to destroy Cecil’s collar to destroy the evidence.
“We arrested two people and now we are looking for Palmer in connection with the same case,” Charity Charamba, a police spokesperson, told The Associated Press.
Theo Bronkhorst, who was working with Bushman Safaris, was charged by Victoria Falls police on Monday for allegedly killing the collared lion on Antionette farm in Gwayi Conservancy in the Hwange district, the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority said.
The land owner, Honest Trymore Ndlovu, is also facing charges.
“Ongoing investigations to date, suggest that the killing of the lion was illegal since the land owner was not allocated a lion on his hunting quota for 2015,” the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority said in a statement.
Lion Aid explains that it is legal to bait lions in Zimbabwe, to shoot them with a bow and arrow from a blind, to kill them outside a national park in a private hunting area and to kill collared lions.
“But Cecil was shot in an area not assigned a lion quota. Supposedly the bait was set for a leopard and then Cecil came along. The professional hunter, Theo Bronkhorst told his client to shoot the lion, and then the hunt became illegal,” Lion Aid says. “The professional hunter then allegedly attempted to destroy the radiocollar to hide the evidence. Allegedly the client was “furious” when he found that the lion was radiocollared. Allegedly, when a professional hunter engages a client in an area without lion quota, the lion will be listed as hunted in an area that does have quota. This could have been standard practice, but unfortunately Cecil was a well-known lion.”
“Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management as the Regulatory Authority and custodian of all wild animals in Zimbabwe issues hunting permits and hunting quota for all hunting areas in Zimbabwe so that only animals on quota are to be hunted. In this case, both the professional hunter and land owner had no permit or quota to justify the offtake of the lion and therefore are liable for the illegal hunt,” the agency said.
The lion trophy has been confiscated, the management agency said in the statement.
“Today with sons Zane and Jason and wife Michele we are fully established and have concessions in the north of Zimbabwe close to Victoria Falls conducting great big game safaris such as buffalo, elephant etc. We also have our own really successful hound pack with years of experience and lots of great leopard taken and being the only local houndsmen in the country.”
Several people have posted angry comments to the Bushman Safaris page. In a July 1 post, prior to the lion hunt, Bushman Safaris said, “Thanks to all who like our page.Understanding how we as hunters do far more for conservation of our wildlife than anti hunters whom probably almost 100% have never even seen or been around our wildlife.Thank you and be proud to be hunters or understanding what we do.”
Bronkhorst has denied the charges.
“It was a magnificent, mature lion. We did not know it was well-known lion,” he told The Telegraph newspaper. “I had a licence for my client to shoot a lion with a bow and arrow in the area where it was shot.
Lion Aid says, “He will likely abscond rather than face trial unless he is confident of the possible bribes he has paid to an entirely corrupt judiciary. The concession owner is allegedly related to the Zimbabwe Minister of Transport and will therefore be immune from prosecution.”
3. He Faced Prison Time in 2008 for Lying to a Federal Agent About the Killing of a Bear
Walter Palmer has hunted big game all over the world, according to what his spokesperson told The Guardian and photos posted online from previous hunts. Several photos showing him with dead big game animals, including a leopard, rhino and elk, were posted to the website “Trophy Hunt America.”
An album of photos on Smugmug called “Safari Connection” shows Palmer with a different dead lion in 2008.
Palmer was profiled in 2009 by the New York Times after he killed a trophy elk in California.
Palmer told the Times that he paid $45,000 to hunt at the elk habitat in 2009 and killed it with a bow and arrow. He learned how to hunt at 5.
“I don’t have a golf game,” Palmer told the Times.
In 2008, he faced prison time and eventually was placed on probation after admitting to making a false statement to a federal agent in connection with his hunt of a black bear in Wisconsin. Palmer shot a black bear in 2006 about 40 miles outside the zone where he was licensed to hunt, and then lied about it to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent, claiming he shot it in the correct zone.
Palmer was ordered to pay $2,938 in restitution and was placed on probation for one year, court records show.
4. He Was Previously Accused of Sexual Harassment
Dr. Walter Palmer runs the River Bluff Dental practice in Bloomington, Minnesota.
He was settled sexual harassment allegations by a former employee who was also a patient, in 2009, according to documents from the Minnesota Board of Dentistry. He settled a corrective action with the board and his insurer paid $127,500 to his accuser.
The woman said “she was subjected to ongoing and unwelcome sexual harassment by (Palmer) including, but not limited to, verbal comments and physical conduct involving her breasts, buttocks, and genitalia.”
She said she told Palmer and her supervisor that she wanted his behavior to stop, but he “failed to cease his harassing conduct.” She also said “she believed (Palmer) terminated her employment in retaliation for reporting the conduct.”
Read the documents below:
The complaint was dismissed in 2010 after the board determined he had completed all the requirements in the agreement. In addition to the fine, he was also ordered to complete a jurisprudence exam and ethics course.
5. Thousands of Death Threats Have Been Made Against Him on Social Media
“Weird visit. Some guy lured me into the dental chair by waving beef jerky at me,” one Yelp reviewer wrote. “Once I sat down, Dr. Palmer viciously attacked my one cavity, but was unable to hit it with the drill. Profusely bleeding from my mouth, I fled the building and wandered the surrounding woods for a day and a half. Thankfully, I didn’t bleed out. My family would’ve been killed and eaten by my neighbors. Two stars.”
Another wrote, “Beware! This dentist might end up killing you in the process of whatever dental treatment you seek. If you seek out a sociopath in a dentist – this is your guy.”
Read more posts from his Yelp page here.
PETA tweeted that it would prefer for him to be hanged publicly:
A fake Facebook page was started after the practice deleted its account.
The dental practice’s website is offline, but a cached version says that Palmer is a general and cosmetic dentist who graduated with honors from the University of Minnesota and its dental school, completing his degree in 1987.
“Dr. Palmer has a unique talent for creating dazzling smiles that complement each individuals tooth structure, skin tone, and facial attributes,” the website says. “One very important aspect of achieving this is taking the time to really listen and hear exactly what the patient wants in their smile and any specific concerns they may have. A comprehensive patient consult is free of charge.”
Palmer, who is married with two children and is originally from North Dakota, says on the website that he “enjoys all outdoor activities.”
“Anything allowing him to stay active and observe and photography wildlife is where you will find Dr. Palmer when he is not in the office,” the website says.
Here are some more posts from his Yelp page:
Read more about Walter Palmer in Spanish at our sister site, AhoraMismo.com: