An American tourist who killed a well-known lion in Zimbabwe said he didn’t know the lion was a local favorite and that he believed everything about the hunting trip was legal and properly conducted.
The hunter was identified by the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe and police as 55-year-old Walter Palmer of Eden Prairie, who has a dental practice in Bloomington.
The Associate Press reports he is facing poaching charges for the crossbow killing.
Two other men – a professional hunter and a farm owner – are facing poaching charges and will appear in court, the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority and the Safari Operators Association said.
A joint statement said the professional hunter is believed to have lured the lion to a farm where it was killed by Palmer in Zimbabwe’s western Hwange region.
The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said Palmer, who allegedly paid $50,000 to kill the animal, is believed to have left the country.
Palmer issued a statement Tuesday explaining the hunt:
“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.”
The death of the lion, known as Cecil, is seen as a blow to Zimbabwe’s tourism, wildlife authorities say. The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said Cecil, who was recognizable by his black mane, was part of an Oxford University research program.
It’s not the first time Palmer has been in hot water because of hunting.
Palmer previously had a run-in with the law after he illegally killed a bear in Wisconsin back in 2006. Court documents show Palmer was convicted of providing a false statement to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In September 2006, the DNR issued a hunting license to Palmer that allowed him to hunt and kill a bear in a specific area of Wisconsin. However, the DNR said Palmer hunted and killed a bear in an area about 40 miles outside of his specific subzone.
After learning that the bear had been killed illegally, Palmer and his hunting group decided that they would say the bear was killed off Taylor Lake Road if authorities asked them about it, according to court documents.
They took the bear to a registration center in their allowed subzone and falsely said it was killed in Washburn County.
He pleaded guilty in 2008 and was sentenced to one year of probation and a $2,938 fine.
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.” African game wouldn’t be eligible.
Hisey, who said he doesn’t have a personal rapport with Palme, said he alerted the group’s board that Palmer’s ethics were being called into question and his 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 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.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.