MN dentist regrets killing Cecil the lion, says hunt was legal

The lion, Cecil, was killed by a hunter.
Cecil, a lion well-known to tourists in Zimbabwe, was killed on July 1, 2015. "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," said Walter James Palmer of Eden Prairie in a statement sent to reporters.
Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority

Updated: 4:12 p.m. | Posted: 11:24 a.m.

A Minnesota dentist under fire for his part in hunting and killing a popular lion in Zimbabwe earlier this month says he regrets the kill but that he secured proper permits and believes the hunt was legal.

Authorities in that country say they're seeking Dr. Walter James Palmer of Eden Prairie on charges of poaching. Palmer, however, said he has not been contacted by U.S. or Zimbabwe authorities and will assist in any inquiry.

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"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, 55, said in the statement sent to reporters.

"I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt," he said, adding, "I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion."

The 13-year-old lion named Cecil was a popular attraction in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. The lion was killed on July 1 during a guided hunt that cost Palmer about $50,000, according to a report in the Telegraph.

Media reports say the lion was lured about half a mile out of the protected national park using bait. The hunters wounded the lion using a bow and arrow. They found the wounded lion the next day and shot him dead. They then beheaded and skinned him. The Telegraph also reports that the hunters removed the lion's collar.

Researchers say about a half-dozen of the lion's cubs will likely be killed by other lions vying for leadership in his former pride.

The killing sparked outrage from conservationists. The government filed poaching charges against the hunter who organized the event, Theo Bronkhorst, and the owner of land where the lion was killed.

"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," according to a joint statement released Monday by Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe.

The professional hunter's license has been revoked and the lion's body has been seized, according to the two organizations.

Zimbabwe police spokesperson Charity Charamba said Palmer will face poaching charges, but that his whereabouts are unknown, according to the Associated Press.

Palmer has a long history of hunting large animals with a bow. A New York Times story in 2009 described him as "capable of skewering a playing card from 100 yards with his compound bow." The story said Palmer "has cultivated a purist's reputation for his disinclination to carry firearms as backup."

But Palmer has also been in trouble before for violating laws governing sportsmanship.

Federal records show he pleaded guilty in 2008 to making false statements to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent in Wisconsin after he killed a black bear about 40 miles outside where he was permitted to hunt.

State court records also show Palmer was cited in 2003 in Otter Tail County, Minn., for fishing without a license.

The website for River Bluff Dental, where Palmer practiced, was down on Tuesday and critics had directed their ire at the company's Yelp page. A message on the office's phone said the voicemail was full.

Palmer has held a dentist license since 1987. His current license is set to expire in January. According to the Minnesota Board of Dentistry, his license is currently active but he's not practicing in the state.

MPR News reporter Riham Feshir contributed to this report.