Minnesota dentist believed Zimbabwe lion killing was legal

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (KMSP) -A Minnesota dentist reportedly paid more than $50,000 to kill one of the most beloved lions in Africa with a bow and arrow, which was found skinned and beheaded after being lured out of a national park.

Cecil the lion was touted as the most famous animal in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. The London Telegraph reported 55-year-old Dr. Walter Palmer, owner of River Bluff Dental in Bloomington, was the one who paid to kill the 13-year-old lion in early July outside the confines of the park after hunters had apparently removed Cecil's collar. Palmer said in a prepared statement he hasn't been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or in America, and contends he had no idea the lion was a "known, local favorite."

“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.”

Cecil was baited at night about half mile away from the park. He was found days later by trackers and had been shot by Palmer with a crossbow, beheaded and skinned. Palmer's spokesman added his client identifies as a big-game hunter and had the "proper legal permits" and professional guides with him. The hunters are also accused of trying to destroy Cecil's collar.

Organizers admitted the hunt was poorly planned, and professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst reported the "mistake" to the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority the next day. Bronkhorst has been charged along with the landowner adjacent to the park. Both are slated to appear in court on July 29.

"Ongoing investigations to date, suggest that the killing of the lion was illegal since the land owner was not allocated a lion on his hunting quota for 2015. Therefore, all persons implicated in this case are due to appear in court facing poaching charges," Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority said in a 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," the statement continues.

No legal repercussions for Palmer were mentioned in the statement, but Palmer is the wanted hunter, the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe president said at a news conference, and authorities don't know where he is.

The shades at Palmer's dental practice were drawn on Tuesday. A dental staffer told Fox 9 it would likely be closed for the remainder of the week, and its website has been shut down. 

Meanwhile, people from all over the country have taken to his practice's Yelp page to compose nasty reviews and various hate messages.

Palmer has been registered with hunting and fishing licenses in Minnesota, Alaska and Florida. He was found guilty in connection with misleading a federal agent in the hunt of a black bear in Wisconsin in 2008.

Full Zimbabwe Parks statement

A joint press statement was released by Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and Safari Operations Association of Zimbabwe on Tuesday

"Theo Bronchorst, a professional hunter with Bushman Safaris is facing criminal charges (VIC FALLS Police CR 27/07/2015) for allegedly killing a collared lion on Antoinette farm in Gwayi Conservancy, Hwange district on 1 July 2015. The lion named ‘Cecil’ was well known and regularly sighted by tourists in the Main camp area of Hwange National Park. It is alleged that the hunter connived with the Antoinette land owner, Mr. Honest Trymore Ndlovu to kill the lion. Ongoing investigations to date, suggest that the killing of the lion was illegal since the land owner was not allocated a lion on his hunting quota for 2015. Therefore, all persons implicated in this case are due to appear in court facing poaching charges.

Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management as the Regulatory Authority and custodian of all wild animals in Zimbabwe issues hunting permits and hunting quota for all hunting areas in Zimbabwe so that only animals on quota are to be hunted. 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.

Both professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst’s license number 553 who was involved in the hunt and the owner of Antoinette farm, Mr. Honest Trymore Ndlovu are being jointly charged for illegally hunting the lion. The two are due to appear in court on Wednesday, 29 July 2015. Efforts are being made to interview the other professional hunter, Zane Bronkhorst, licence number 558, who was also involved in the illegal hunt.

The Professional Hunter Theo Bronkhosrt’s Licence has been suspended with immediate effect. The lion trophy has also been confiscated. The relevant stakeholders have been informed and are being updated about this matter."

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