A dentist from Minnesota is under fire this week as millions of people online are in an uproar over his killing of the famous lion “Cecil” from a Reserve in Zimbabwe. Authorities found the lion with his head removed and skinned left in the desert to rot a week ago, which caused international outrage. People searched for who it could have been, and which guides were responsible, for several days before finally releasing the identity as none other than a U.S. dentist by the name of Walter Palmer. The outrage incited further in the last few days online, with protests outside of his dental office, and the practice being closed indefinitely. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service also attempted to contact him for several days, with no luck. Ultimately yesterday his representative finally contacted the USFWS.
In his only public statement to date, Dr. Palmer indicated how he “deeply regretted taking the lion”, which has served to only fuel anger towards him given the language used. For many, Walter Palmer is a face they can vilify that represents the rich Westerns who pay fortunes to kill threatened African animals. This problem has grown in recent years with over 600 lions being killed for sport on the continent every year, mostly by rich Western hunters who will pay up to $100,000 for a license to kill one. His apology has fallen flat with those outraged by his behavior, as Cecil was a lion tracked and monitored as part of an Oxford University study. In addition, he was a local favorite that tourists loved to see, since he was not scared of people and would often lay close to passing safari goers.
The Hunter Becomes the Hunted
To say big game hunting for sport is unpopular is an understatement. In the latest poll from IFAW in 2014 showed that 82% of Americans support banning the import and sale of lion trophies, and 83.4% support the ban of elephant trophies of any kind. Those numbers show support for an issue that is rarely seen in any other facet of political life. Similar polls in the past have shown that while 70% of Americans would pay to Safari in Africa and see lions and elephants, only 6% would pay to hunt them. These are the kinds of one sided belief issues that truly are rare in the political landscape.
Given this, it’s hardly surprising the outrage that’s been thrown at Dr. Palmer for his unnecessary killing of a lion, who was protected. Not only did the doctor bait the lion off the reservation, but wounded him and chased him for over 40 hours due to his incompetence with the bow he used. His practice, River Bluff Dental, has had it’s Yelp page overrun with angry netizens, frustrated with his behavior and lack of remorse. Two Zimbabweans have been arrested in connection to this case so far, Theo Bronchorst, a hunter who allegedly took Palmer to the reservation for the lion, and Trymore Ndlovu the owner of the land where Cecil was killed. Both face up to 5 years in prison for illegal poaching.
As of yesterday July 31st, Zimbabwe’s government has issued an extradition request for Dr. Palmer so that they can try him there and potentially jail him for up to 5 years. There’s several things the government flags as illegal which Palmer did, particularly attempting to cover up and destroy the tracking collar the lion wore when after he had killed it. In addition, luring lions off the reservation is a crime in itself. Whether or not he broke a US law, and if the US will allow his extradition remains to be seen. One thing’s for sure, if history is any indication (such as Kendall Jones earlier this year), Walter Palmer will be paying for this for a long time.