Hunter who killed Cecil, the famous African lion, identified as Minnesota dentist

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Cecil approaches a visitor. Photo: Hwange National Park

The hunter said to have lured a beloved lion named Cecil out of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, to be shot and killed as a trophy, has been identified by authorities as Walter James Palmer, a Minnesota dentist.

The July 1 killing of a Cecil, a 13-year-old black-maned lion that held iconic stature in the wilderness preserve, sparked outrage as details began to leak about his death and how the lion was killed.

The lion was said to have been lured out of the park with an animal carcass tied to the bumper of a vehicle belonging to the hunting party, which was on private land outside of the park.

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Cecil was shot with a crossbow, then stalked for up to 40 hours and dispatched with a rifle.

Two arrests were made before Palmer was identified as the triggerman Tuesday, by the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force and the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe.

Later Tuesday, Palmer issued a statement that reads: “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.”
Cecil
Cecil, a 13-year-old African lion, was a park icon. Photo: African Bush Camps

Cecil had been wearing a GPS collar as part of a longstanding research program. It’s illegal to hunt collared animals, and the collar was illegally removed after the lion was skinned and beheaded.

According to the Star Tribune, Palmer was once convicted of poaching a bear in Wisconsin. His dental office was closed Tuesday, so he could not be reached for further comment.

The Telegraph in the U.K. was first to name Palmer as Cecil’s killer, reporting that two independent sources, one of which reviewed the hunting permit, confirmed the identity.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Can&#39;t make this up. Walter Palmer dental office morphed into makeshift memorial. Suppose <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/CecilTheLion?src=hash”>#CecilTheLion</a> in foreground <a href=”http://t.co/tW59sUuB3J”>pic.twitter.com/tW59sUuB3J</a></p>&mdash; Paul Blume (@PaulBlume_FOX9) <a href=”https://twitter.com/PaulBlume_FOX9/status/626125492446433280″>July 28, 2015</a></blockquote>
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Palmer is a globe-trotting big-game hunter. Photos of him posing with animals he has killed–many of which appear on his Facebook page–are being shared on hunting blogs and other websites.

His dental office website was disconnected early Tuesday, and he was being harshly criticized on social media. Paul Blume of Fox 9 tweeted a photo of the outside of Palmer’s office, showing stuffed animals placed against the building by critics hoping to fashion a sort of memorial. The office had closed for the day, presumably because of an overwhelming amount of criticism leveled toward the hunter.

What’s unclear is how many other violations occurred, since Palmer and his party were not hunting in the park. Baiting animals in legal hunting areas is not common, but sometimes occurs during big-game hunts in Africa.

Palmer belonged to the Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association, but that group stated recently via Facebook that the hunter was “in violation of the ethics of ZPHGA,” and that his membership has been suspended indefinitely.

The two men arrested in connection with the killing of Cecil have been identified as Theo Bronkhorst, a professional hunter, and the owner of the private land on which the hunt occurred. Both face court hearings this week.

Meanwhile, Cecil is still being remembered for his friendly attitude toward people, which made him the most photographed animal in the park.

Johnny Rodrigues, who heads the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told the Telegraph: “He never bothered anybody. He was one of the most beautiful animals to look at.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story contained a misspelling of Walter James Palmer’s name.

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