Report: Minnesota dentist shot Cecil the lion

(The post has been updated to add Palmer’s acknowledgement that he shot the lion. All updates are at the bottom of the post.)

Cecil the lion was a pretty big deal in Zimbabwe. The 13-year-old lion was a major tourist attraction at Zimbabwe’s famous Hwange National Park, according to the BBC.

The lion was shot with a crossbow and — after hours of suffering — a rifle, before being beheaded and skinned.

The killer had allegedly bribed wildlife guards.

“He never bothered anybody. He was one of the most beautiful animals to look at,” said Johnny Rodrigues, the head of Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force.

The lion had been “baited” out of the park, a tactic which hunters used to portray their action as legal, Mr Rodrigues said.

Two guides had been arrested and if it was confirmed that the hunter was a Spaniard, “we will expose him for what he is”, he added.

The six cubs of Cecil will now be killed, as a new male lion in the pride will not allow them to live in order to encourage the lionesses to mate with him.

Initial reports said a Spaniard had killed the iconic lion. But today, the Telegraph says it was a dentist from Minnesota.

A New York Times report detailing one of Mr (Walter) Palmer’s hunts, in 2009, described him as “capable of skewering a playing card from 100 yards with his compound bow.” He jokingly told the reporter that his life revolved around shooting, and that he “doesn’t have a golf game”.

The paper said that, having learnt to shoot at the age of five, Mr Palmer paid $45,000 at an auction for the right to shoot an elk in 2009, in a sale promoted as financing preservation of the elk habitat.

The father of two had, according to the paper, killed all but one of the animals listed in records produced by bow hunting group Pope and Young. The animals on the list include polar bears, bison, grizzly bears and cougars.

“Of course, it is a personal achievement to harvest any big-game animal with a bow and arrow,” said Glen Hisey, the curator of the Pope and Young records programme. “It is a way of honouring that animal for all time.”

Mr Palmer has also run into legal woes. In 2008, court records show, he pleaded guilty to making a false statement to federal wildlife officials concerning the exact location of the slaying of a black bear during a guided hunt in Wisconsin. He was sentenced to a year probation.

Lion hunting using firearms is legal in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Tanzania – and bow and arrow hunting is legal in all the same countries but Tanzania.

Palmer was assisted by a professional hunter named Theo Bronkhorst who reported the incident to authorities, the Telegraph says.

Palmer told the Star Tribune the details of the incident are being misreported, and promised a longer statement later today.

This morning, the dentist’s website — River Bluffs Dental in Bloomington — is no longer available. His firm’s Facebook page is being heavily targeted, however.

Update 11:52 a.m. – A statement to the Guardian from a Palmer spokesman.

“As far as I understand, Walter believes that he might have shot that lion that has been referred to as Cecil,” the spokesman said. “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.”

Zimbabwe National Parks statement:

“In this case, both the professional hunter and land owner had no permit or quota to justify the offtake of the lion and therefore are liable for the illegal hunt.”

12:48 p.m. – PETA checks in:

Hunting is a coward’s pastime. If, as has been reported, this dentist and his guides lured Cecil out of the park with food so as to shoot him on private property, because shooting him in the park would have been illegal, he needs to be extradited, charged, and, preferably, hanged. To get a thrill at the cost of a life, this man gunned down a beloved lion, Cecil with a high-powered weapon. All wild animals are beloved by their own mates and infants, but to hunters like this overblown, over-privileged little man, who lack empathy, understanding, and respect for living creatures, they are merely targets to kill, decapitate, and hang up on a wall as a trophy. The photograph of this dentist, smiling over the corpse of another animal, who, like Cecil, wanted only to be left in peace, will disgust every caring soul in the world.
–PETA President, Ingrid E. Newkirk

Update 1:46 p.m. – Statement from Palmer via a PR firm:

In early July, I was in Zimbabwe on a bow hunting trip for big game. I hired several professional guides and they secured all proper permits. To my knowledge, everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted.

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.

I have not been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or in the U.S. about this situation, but will assist them in any inquiries they may have.

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