BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — An avid Minnesota hunter accused of illegally killing a protected lion in Zimbabwe said Tuesday that he thought everything about his trip was legal and wasn’t aware of the animal’s status “until the end of the hunt.”
Walter Palmer, who has a felony record in the U.S. related to shooting a black bear in Wisconsin, released his statement through a public relations firm after being identified by officials as the American involved in the hunt. Authorities in Zimbabwe say Palmer is being sought on poaching charges, but Palmer said he hasn’t heard from U.S. or Zimbabwean authorities.
“I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favourite, 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,” said Palmer, a dentist who lives in the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie.
Palmer’s whereabouts were unknown Tuesday. No one answered the door at his home, and a woman who came out of his dental office in nearby Bloomington said he wasn’t there or taking patients Tuesday. Phone calls to listed home numbers went unanswered.
According to U.S. court records, Palmer pleaded guilty in 2008 to making false statements to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about a black bear he fatally shot in western Wisconsin.
Palmer had a permit to hunt but shot the animal outside the authorized zone in 2006, then tried to pass it off as being killed elsewhere, according to court documents. He was given one year probation and fined nearly $3,000.
Doug Kelley, a former U.S. attorney and Palmer’s attorney in the bear case, was unavailable for immediate comment Tuesday, according to his assistant.
Palmer had been identified by the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe and police as the American facing poaching charges for the crossbow killing of Cecil, a well-known and protected lion whose death has outraged animal conservationists and others.
Local authorities allege the lion was lured from a protected area and killed in early July. Zimbabwean conservationists said the American allegedly paid $50,000 for the trip.
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.”
Although African game wouldn’t be eligible, Hisey — who said he doesn’t have a personal rapport with Palmer — said he alerted the group’s board that Palmer’s ethics were being called into question. He said Palmer’s domestic records could be jeopardized if he’s found to have done something illegal abroad.
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 the 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.”