July 20, 2017 04:40 PM
An American tourist who killed a well-known lion in Zimbabwe said he didn’t know the lion was a local favorite and that he believed everything about the hunting trip was legal and properly conducted.
The hunter was identified by the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe and police as 55-year-old Walter Palmer of Eden Prairie, who has a dental practice in Bloomington.
Authorities in Zimbabwe say Palmer is being sought on poaching charges, but Palmer said he hasn't heard from U.S. or Zimbabwean authorities.
Two other men – a professional hunter and a farm owner – are facing poaching charges and will appear in court, the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority and the Safari Operators Association said.
A joint statement said the professional hunter is believed to have lured the lion to a farm where it was killed by Palmer in Zimbabwe's western Hwange region.
The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said Palmer, who allegedly paid $50,000 to kill the animal, is believed to have left the country.
Palmer issued a statement Tuesday explaining the hunt:
"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."
The death of the lion, known as Cecil, is seen as a blow to Zimbabwe’s tourism, wildlife authorities say. The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said Cecil, who was recognizable by his black mane, was part of an Oxford University research program.
Palmer's Hunting Past
This is not the first time Palmer has been in hot water because of hunting.
Palmer previously had a run-in with the law after he illegally killed a bear in Wisconsin back in 2006. Court documents show Palmer was convicted of providing a false statement to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In September 2006, the DNR issued a hunting license to Palmer that allowed him to hunt and kill a bear in a specific area of Wisconsin. However, the DNR said Palmer hunted and killed a bear in an area about 40 miles outside of his specific subzone.
After learning that the bear had been killed illegally, Palmer and his hunting group decided that they would say the bear was killed off Taylor Lake Road if authorities asked them about it, according to court documents.
They took the bear to a registration center in their allowed subzone and falsely said it was killed in Washburn County.
He pleaded guilty in 2008 and was sentenced to one year of probation and a $2,938 fine.
Palmer has several hunts on record with the Pope and Young Club, where archers register big game taken in North America for posterity, according to the club's director of records, Glenn Hisey.
Hisey said he didn't have immediate access to records showing the types and number of animals killed by Palmer during hunts, but noted that any club records involve legal hunts "taken under our rules of fair chase." African game wouldn't be eligible.
He went on to say, if Palmer is found to have done some illegal abroad, the club would look back at some of his North American kills, and potentially remove his entries to keep the club records as clean as possible.
Hisey said he has measured some of Palmer's animals in the past; he could only recall a white-tailed deer, but said he knows there are more.
Hisey pointed out the Pope and Young Club is really an ethical conservation bow hunting organization.
"We really try to do what is right for preserving our heritage and our history for future generations," Hisey said.
He did admit the club has gotten some unsettling phone calls and social media messages because of its link to Palmer.
A Facebook page for Palmer's Minnesota dental practice was taken offline Tuesday after users flooded it with comments condemning Palmer's involvement in the hunt. Hundreds of similar comments inundated a page for his dental practice on review platform Yelp, which prior to Tuesday had only three comments.
A state database of Minnesota dentist licensure lists the status of Palmer's registration as active, but "not practicing in state." 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Jennie Lissarrague & Jessica Miles
Updated: July 20, 2017 04:40 PM
Created: July 28, 2015 09:35 AM
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