On Tuesday, 55-year-old Walter Palmer returned to his dental practice in Bloomington, Minnesota. It was the first time the dentist returned to his office since media outlets identified him as the man who shot and killed Cecil, a popular black-maned lion in Zimbabwe.
Palmer gave and in-depth interview to the press when he met with reporters from the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Associated Press on Sunday. In the 20-minute interview, Palmer reaffirmed his belief that the kill was legal and corrected several “inaccuracies” that have been widely circulated in the news. The Minnesota dentist also commented on the protests, criticism, hate mail, and death threats that have been sent to him.
“It’s been especially hard on my wife and daughter. They’ve been threatened. In the media, as well, and the social media,” he said.
“I don’t understand that level of humanity, to come after people not involved at all,” Palmer added.
The death of Cecil garnered international outrage and provoked a debate about the ethics of exotic hunting. Shortly after Palmer shot the lion in July, Zimbabwe officials declared the kill illegal—allegedly because he did not have the right hunting permits and the lion was lured out of a protected area, Hwange National Park. Those same officials have been vocal in calling for Palmer to return to Zimbabwe to face charges, along with his guide Theo Bronkhorst, and a landowner, Honest Trymore Ndlovu. Both of those men have since been arrested and charged.
Local conservation groups claim that Palmer and his party lured Cecil out of the park by strapping meat to a vehicle and driving it to Ndlovu’s property. There, they said Palmer shot the lion with a bow and arrow and then waited 40 hours before tracking it down and killing it. At that point, some accused Palmer and his guide of removing a tracking collar from the lion and attempting to destroy it.
In his recent interview, Palmer denied that he lured the lion out of the park and stated once again that to his knowledge, the incident was entirely legal.
“Zimbabwe has been a wonderful country for me to hunt in and I’ve always followed the laws for the country I’m in,” he said.
Palmer confirmed that the lion was taken outside the park and that it was killed with a bow, unlike certain other reports that suggested the animal was taken with a crossbow or firearm. The dentist further added that it took far less than 40 hours to dispatch the animal after it was first wounded, and added that neither he nor his guide saw the collar until they recovered the animal. Joe Friedberg, an attorney who accompanied Palmer to the interview, added that hunting collared animals is perfectly legal in Zimbabwe.
Palmer also clarified that contrary to media reports, he was not in “hiding” during July and August, when protesters appeared outside of his dental practice and his home was vandalized. The dentist stated that he simply avoided the public eye due to concerns for his family’s safety. The Palmers have received numerous death threats over the past two months and the President of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk, has called for him to be “hanged.” PETA recently unveiled a new product in their online store that appears to be a Halloween costume of a dentist being brutally mauled by a plush lion. A name tag that reads “Dr. Palmer, Dentist” leaves little doubt to who the costume is supposed to portray.
You can watch a video of Palmer returning to his office below, as well as an interview with a protester.
Despite the circumstances, Palmer says he feels safe.
“I’ve taken precautions for safety. One reason why I feel safe is because of the special care that Bloomington police and Eden Prairie police have provided for my staff, office and home. I’m not concerned about safety for that reason,” he said.
Palmer is currently in contact with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and has not been charged with any wrongdoing. Many observers, including hunters, conservationists, and animal rights activists, say they are withholding judgement until Palmer comes forward and court proceedings begin.
Hunters are a major source of funding for wildlife conservation, and pour millions of dollars into protecting animals like lions and making sure that local wildlife agencies are equipped to fight poachers. Hunting is also an effective method of culling aggressive or dangerous animals that would normally be euthanized.
As a rule, hunting organizations oppose poaching and the illegal killing of wildlife.