Dentist May Face Charges in Lion’s Death

Photo courtesy of Zimbabwe Tourism

Dentist May Face Charges in Lion’s Death
| published July 29, 2015 |

By Thursday Review staff

Walter Palmer, a Minnesota dentist with a felony record of unauthorized shootings of animals in the United States, is now wanted in at least two countries for the killing of a beloved and protected lion in the African country of Zimbabwe earlier this month.

The lion, which had a collar and was named Cecil by locals and visitors, was apparently lured out of its preserve by hired poachers who dragged raw meat behind a truck, enticing the relatively friendly big cat into an area adjacent to protected lands. There, after allegedly paying a fee of $55,000 for the hunting junket, Palmer shot the lion to death with a rifle.

Palmer and his attorneys released a statement days ago explaining that the dentist thought that the hunting outing was legal and legitimate, and said he had no idea that the lion was part of a group of protected animals in the nearby preserve. Palmer said his guides all had proper paperwork, IDs and licenses, though in Zimbabwe officials are now saying that Palmer’s hunting party was part of an illegal operation run by poachers.

In Zimbabwe, two men have been arrested already in the incident: a professional hunter and guide-for-hire named Theo Bronkhorst, and a local landowner, Honestu Ndlovu, who leases his farm and range property for hunting activities. Both men face charges of conspiracy and “failure to prevent an unlawful hunt or poaching activity.” Both Bronkhorst and Ndlovu were released on bond but must appear again in court on separate dates in August. According to the BBC, Palmer may also face charges in Zimbabwe.

Palmer, who lives in the upscale Eden Prairie suburb of Minneapolis, was previously convicted in Wisconsin for the shooting of a protected black bear outside of authorized hunting areas. He was also convicted in that high profile case of providing false information to police and investigators with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when he attempted to manufacture evidence—specifically trying to cover his tracks by making it appear he had killed the bear elsewhere. In 2006 he was fined $3000 and given a year of probation.

Cecil’s killing sparked outrage on the internet all over the world, and spurred an online campaign dubbed “Justice for Cecil,” which drew nearly a half million sympathizers and signatures within hours. International political figures have criticized those involved with Cecil’s shooting, and several members of Congress have weighed-in on the killing of the beloved lion—the latest serious hunting infraction by Palmer, and a violation which now may turn into an international incident and has raised the hackles of animal rights groups and environmentalists.

Officials in Zimbabwe say that Cecil was lured by an animal carcass onto adjacent land several miles away, then, the lion was allegedly shot with arrows to cause it serious injury and weaken its ability to flee. Palmer and his hunting crew then pursued the lion until he was within range to fatally shoot the animal.

Palmer is known to be an avid hunter and a member of exclusive hunting clubs. He has collected numerous animals for posterity and display, and is a member of Pope & Young Club, an elite archery and shooting group which has been under scrutiny from both animal rights groups and U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents in the past. According to the Associated Press, the club’s records manager said he did not have immediate access to materials indicating Palmer’s previous animal kills, but stressed that the Pope and Young Club follows strict guidelines about how, when and where its members hunt. But the club’s representative also said that its rules do not cover actions of its members in Zimbabwe.

According to media reports, Palmer has dropped off the radar of reporters and investigators since the incident became major news days ago. Reporters and federal officials have been unable to speak to Palmer at his home, and at his dental practice receptionists have said simply that he has cancelled appointments and will not be available for several days.

“I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite,” Palmer said in a statement on Monday. Authorities in the U.S. and in Africa will want to find out more information from Palmer--specifically if he participated in the luring of the animal from its protected area and onto adjacent land.