U.S. officials want to question MN dentist in Cecil the lion killing

Protestors chanted and posted signs.
Outrage reached a fever pitch this week over the actions of Dr. Walter Palmer, a Minnesota dentist and avid hunter. Here, protesters chanted and posted signs outside Palmer's Bloomington practice, Wednesday, July 29, 2015.
Courtney Perry for MPR News

Updated 4:36 p.m. | Posted 11:46 a.m.

Federal conservation officials say they've been unable to reach Dr. Walter Palmer as they investigate his lion hunt in Zimbabwe. On Thursday, they called on the Minnesota dentist to respond immediately.

Palmer, 55, of Eden Prairie was identified on Tuesday as the hunter who killed Cecil the lion, a popular attraction and research subject at Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park.

Zimbabwean authorities said the lion was lured out of the park's protection and shot with a bow and arrow around July 1. The hunters found the wounded animal 40 hours later, killed him using a firearm. They then skinned, beheaded the lion and took off his GPS tracking collar.

Palmer said in a statement that he would cooperate with Zimbabwean and U.S. authorities in any inquiries. He said he did not realize that Cecil was a popular animal and believes the hunting guides he hired had obtained all necessary legal permits.

On Thursday, however, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it's been trying repeatedly to reach Palmer and ask him questions about what happened, but hasn't heard back.

The agency had earlier called its effort a fact-finding mission to aid Zimbabwe authorities but is now saying it is "investigating the circumstances" around Cecil's killing.

"That investigation will take us wherever the facts lead. At this point in time, however, multiple efforts to contact Dr. Walter Palmer have been unsuccessful," Edward Grace, the wildlife agency's deputy chief of law enforcement, said in a statement, adding, "We ask that Dr. Palmer or his representative contact us immediately."

Palmer has not been charged with a crime. Zimbabwe authorities, however, have charged Palmer's guide with failing to prevent an unlawful hunt. The guide has pleaded not guilty.

Late Thursday afternoon, the hunting organization Safari Club International announced that it had suspended the memberships of Palmer and his guide. The group called for a "full and thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding the death of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe."

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