In early July, a Minnesota dentist traded in his spray nozzle for a bow and arrow and apparently spent 40 hours stalking through a national park in Zimbabwe on the trail of a dying lion.
Cecil the lion was beloved by his home country and the tourists who could always trust him for a good photo-op. The news this week of the beast’s death—as well as its skinned and decapitated body left on the outskirts of the park—has sparked global outrage. And the man responsible has been named as Walter Palmer, a 55-year-old father of two who shelled out $55,000 to fire the fatal arrow.
Cecil’s killer was first rumored to be a wealthy Spaniard, but The Telegraph surfaced Palmer’s name.
“As far as I understand, Walter believes that he might have shot that lion that has been referred to as Cecil,” a spokesman for Palmer told the paper. “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.”
Online revenge was swift. Palmer’s dental practice in Bloomington has been overrun with angry online reviews. On Yelp, 1,040 reviews from across the country have dropped him to a 1-star average rating. “So next time you pay him for an implant, veneer, crown or cleaning—know that you are financing one animal to kill another,” one reviewer wrote in from Manhattan Beach, California. On Tuesday, Palmer’s office phone and website appeared to be disconnected, and his personal phone was no longer in service.
“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 in a statement on Tuesday, adding that he had not been contacted by authorities. “Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion.”
Palmer apparently killed Cecil while on a Bushman Safaris-run trip with professional hunters in Hwange National Park. He and his guides allegedly lured the lion out of the protected zone at night and then shot it. They followed it for 40 hours until it died, and they then attempted to remove its tracking collar, which was being monitored by an Oxford University research project.
The hunt was illegal, according to Zimbabwe parks authorities, who say that the hunter and the landowner did not have permits to kill a lion. The landowner and professional guide accompanying Palmer will face court in early August for poaching charges, but it’s believed the hunter himself is already gone.
If he does face legal action, it won’t be the first time Palmer has been in trouble for his hunting predilection. In 2008, he was sentenced to one year probation and a nearly $3,000 fine for lying to a federal agent about a bear he killed in Wisconsin. According to the felony case, in which he pleaded guilty, Palmer falsely claimed he had shot the animal in the zone where he was licensed to hunt. Apparently, when the members of the hunting team realized they were outside the zone, they promised to hide the fact from authorities. The group was actually 40 miles outside the permitted zone.
It’s also not the first time Palmer’s shelled out big bucks for the chance to kill. In 2009, he paid $45,000 at an auction to hunt a rare California tule elk. He’s also been photographed with the carcasses of other big game, including a different lion and a white rhino.
“Palmer, said to be capable of skewering a playing card from 100 yards with his compound bow, has cultivated a purist’s reputation for his disinclination to carry firearms as backup,” The New York Times wrote of him in 2009, about a battle to break the record for the largest trophy antler. “I don’t have a golf game,” he told the reporter.
The same day Cecil was killed, the hunting outfit which ran the trip, Bushman Safaris, posted on its Facebook 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.”