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American dentist blames Zimbabwe guides over death of protected lion

A Minnesota dentist who went on a guided bow hunting trip for big game in Zimbabwe said that he had no idea the lion he killed was protected and that he relied on the expertise of his local guides to ensure the hunt was legal.
Cecil, a well-known protected lion from Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, was allegedly killed by an American dentist with a crossbow while on a big game hunt. Paula French via AP
Cecil, a well-known protected lion from Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, was allegedly killed by an American dentist with a crossbow while on a big game hunt. Paula French via AP

BLOOMINGTON, MINNESOTA // A Minnesota dentist who went on a guided bow hunting trip for big game in Zimbabwe said that he had no idea the lion he killed was protected and that he relied on the expertise of his local guides to ensure the hunt was legal.

Walter Palmer, who has a criminal record in the US related to shooting a black bear in Wisconsin, released a statement Tuesday after Zimbabwean authorities identified him as the American involved in the July hunt. They said Mr Palmer is being sought on poaching charges, but the American said he has not heard from US or Zimbabwean authorities.

“I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favourite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt,” said Mr Palmer. He said his guides had proper permits, and to his knowledge, everything was handled properly.

“I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion,” he said.

The 55-year-old dentist was identified by the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe and police as the American facing poaching charges for the crossbow killing of Cecil, a well-known lion.

Local authorities allege the lion was lured from a protected area and killed in early July. Zimbabwean conservationists said the American allegedly paid US$50,000 (Dh183,657) for the trip.

The lion’s death has outraged animal conservationists and others, including US Representative Betty McCollum, a Minnesota Democrat. In a statement late Tuesday, the congresswoman called for an investigation by the US Attorney’s Office and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to see whether any US laws were violated.

Mr Palmer’s hired spokesman, Jon Austin, said he believed Palmer was in the Minneapolis-St Paul area Tuesday. No one answered the door at his home, and a woman who came out of his dental office in nearby Bloomington said he was not there or taking patients Tuesday. Phone calls to listed home numbers went unanswered.

A Facebook page for Mr Palmer’s Minnesota dental practice was taken offline Tuesday after users flooded it with comments condemning his involvement in the hunt. Hundreds of similar comments inundated a page for his dental practice on the review platform Yelp, which before Tuesday had only three comments.

Some people left stuffed animals at the door to his shuttered office Tuesday in a sign of protest.

* Associated Press

Updated: July 29, 2015 04:00 AM

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