Zimbabwean authorities say that a Minnesota dentist is responsible for slaying one of the country’s most beloved lions.
On Tuesday, The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said in a statement that Walter James Palmer of Eden Prairie, Minn., paid at least $50,000 to track and kill the animal.
The conservation group and Zimbabwean authorities said that Palmer ultimately killed, Cecil, a protected lion and one of the most famous animals at the Hwange National Park. Cecil was fitted with a GPS collar and tracked by the Oxford University research program, according to a statement from Johnny Rodrigues, the chairman for Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force.
On Tuesday, Palmer said in a statement, “I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt,” CBS reported.
“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,” Palmer said, according to CBS. “I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion.”
He added, according to the statement, that he had not been contacted by authorities but would work with them.
According to police spokeswoman Charity Charamba, Palmer will face charges of poaching, the AP reported. Emmanuel Fundira, the president of the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe, said that Palmer’s whereabouts are currently unknown.
The conservation group alleges that Palmer worked with the guides to lure Cecil from the national park to an unprotected area by strapping a “dead animal to their vehicle.”
Once the animal was off the national park land, Palmer allegedly shot Cecil with a bow and arrow, but did not kill him. The group then tracked the wounded animal for 40 hours, ultimately shooting and killing him, Rodrigues said. Cecil was skinned and beheaded.
“The saddest part of all is that now that Cecil is dead, the next lion in the hierarchy…will most likely kill all Cecil’s cubs so that he can insert his own bloodline into the females,” Rodrigues said.
A stateside official expressed anger, too. U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, a Minnesota Democrat, in a statement late Tuesday called for an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to see whether any U.S. laws were violated.
The two Zimbabwean men facing charges include a landowner and a professional hunter, according to a joint statement from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and Safari Operators Association.
Neither of the men had a hunting permit, making the kill illegal, according to the statement.
Palmer, 55, told the Minnesota Star Tribune earlier Tuesday that “some things are being misreported,” in regard to the lion’s death.
Conservation groups and people around the world are outraged by Cecil’s death. Since news broke of the killing, the Yelp page for Palmer’s dental facility in Bloomington has been overrun with negative comments. The dentistry currently has one star on the website.
One user said, “If you visit this dentist for services, you are funding his sprees of killing innocent, magnificent African animals that should be protected.” Another commented, “A vile and disgusting human. He should be banned from practicing. Despicable. I blame your parents for raising someone who thinks it’s ok to kill earthly creatures. Wouldn’t be clever to see how you would face Cecil without your tricks and tools?”
According to the AP, this is not the first time Palmer has been in trouble for hunting. Palmer agreed to plead guilty in 2008 for lying to a federal agent about where he shot a black bear in Wisconsin. He was fined $3,000 and received probation.
Palmer is properly licensed and able to practice in the state, according to the Minnesota Board of Dentistry. Board records show that Palmer was the subject of a sexual harassment complaint settled in 2006, with Palmer admitting no wrongdoing and agreeing to pay a former receptionist more than $127,000.