The Minnesota dentist who killed a beloved African lion in Zimbabwe has become the “hunted” himself as the fury grows over the death of Cecil the Lion. The iconic 13-year-old animal was a star at Hwange National Park.
He was found beheaded and skinned this week.
From Jimmy Kimmel delivering an emotional smackdown of the hunter to Twitter users issuing death threats against Cecil’s killer, the outpouring of rage surrounding the animal’s death in early July continues to grow.
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Dentist Walter Palmer is accused of luring the famous lion out of a protected area on July 6, shooting him with a bow and arrow, and then tracking him for 40 hours. Conservationists allege that Palmer paid $55,000 for the hunting trip.
Palmer, now being sought on poaching charges by Zimbabwean authorities, issued a statement on Tuesday saying that he did not know that the lion he killed was protected. He said he relied on local guides to ensure that the hunt was legal.
The Associated Press reported that according to U.S. court records, Palmer has had run-ins with U.S. wildlife officials in the past. In 2008 he pleaded guilty to making false statements to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about a black bear he fatally shot in western Wisconsin. Palmer had a hunting permit but shot the animal outside the authorized zone, then tried to say he killed it elsewhere.
On Wednesday officials in Zimbabwe charged two local hunters involved in the incident with poaching in an illegal game hunt. According to CBS, the chairman of Zimbabwe’s Conservation Task Force, Johnny Rodrigues, is appalled at how Cecil died.
“It’s the manner that, the way it was done,” Rodrigues said. “To lure the lion out of the park, scent and bait the area, and then come in with a spotlight and shoot him with a bow and arrow. I mean, it’s crazy, really. It’s inhumane.”
Palmer, 55, who lives in Eden Prairie, Minn., said in a statement on Tuesday that he 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 deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion.”
Palmer, who is thought to be in hiding, has now become the target of online death threats. On Wednesday police in Bloomington, Minn., where Palmer’s dental office is located, stepped up patrols around the location anticipating protests. Palmer has informed patients that the office is closed for the time being and patients are being referred to other dentists.
Outrage at the incident has come from everyone from animal conservationists to politicians and celebrities, including Ricky Gervais, Christie Brinkley and Alyssa Milano.
The incident has touched off a debate about the growing trend of trophy hunting of endangered species.
On Tuesday night an emotional Jimmy Kimmel expressed disgust and took shots at Palmer’s manhood. He asked viewers to donate to Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, whose studies of Cecil helped make him famous.
People left stuffed animals outside the door of his dental practice in Bloomington, which is now closed.
Because the Facebook page for Palmer’s dental practice was taken offline on Tuesday, people flooded the review platform Yelp with angry messages about the incident.