Tuesday 28 February 2017

Cecil the lion's dentist killer Walter Palmer apologises to patients for the ‘disruption’ to his business

David Kearns

Cecil the Lion was lured from the Hwange National Park and shot dead by US dentist Walter James Palmer
Cecil the Lion was lured from the Hwange National Park and shot dead by US dentist Walter James Palmer

The US dentist at the centre of an international outcry after he killed Zimbabwe's most famous lion has apologised to his patients for the disruption caused by the anger directed at him.

Walter Palmer's dental practice in Minneapolis has been closed since he was named as the tourist who shot Cecil after he was lured out of the Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park earlier this month.

Two Zimbabwean men have been charged over the death and local police say Dr Palmer may also face poaching charges.

In a letter addressed to his "valued" patients, the 55 year-old dentist said he had "no idea" the lion was so revered and that his business has suffered as a result.

He said he thought the hunt was legal and was unaware Cecil was protected.

It is believed that the dentist paid almost €47,000 ($50,000) for the right to hunt and kill the 13-year-old lion.

Read More: Cecil the Lion: Bones will become an anti-poaching memorial

"As you may have already heard, I have been in the news over the last few days for reasons that have nothing to do with my profession or the care I provide for you," he wrote in the letter.

The dentist, who has become the target of worldwide outrage for hunting and killing the protected lion, goes on to advised his patients to seek care elsewhere.

US dentist Walter Palmer with another lion he killed months before shooting Cecil
US dentist Walter Palmer with another lion he killed months before shooting Cecil

Dr Palmer has faced protests at his clinic in Bloomington, a suburb of Minneapolis in Minnesota, where he offers general and cosmetic dentistry.

He has not appeared in public since being identified on Tuesday as a party to the lion's death.

A couple of hundred protesters gathered on Wednesday outside Dr Palmer's office with signs, including one that said: "Let the hunter be hunted!" Signs were also taped on his office door.

In his letter, Dr Palmer says he rarely discusses his big-game hunting because it can be a "divisive and emotionally charged topic".

A woman hangs a sign on the front entrance of Dr Palmer's dental clinic during a protest against his killing of Cecil the lion Credit: Eric Miller
A woman hangs a sign on the front entrance of Dr Palmer's dental clinic during a protest against his killing of Cecil the lion Credit: Eric Miller

"I understand and respect that not everyone shares the same views on hunting," he continues.

Read More: Cecil the lion's killer Walter Palmer in hiding as global anger reaches hometown

The married father of two was the subject of a 2009 New York Times article about big-game hunting in which he said he learned to shoot at the age of five.

The article said Dr Palmer had a reputation for being capable of "skewering a playing card from 100 yards" with a compound bow and having "a purist's reputation for his disinclination to carry firearms as back-up".

During the night-time hunt, the Zimbabwean men tied a dead animal to their car to draw the lion out of a national park, said Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force.

Professional Zimbabwean hunter Theo Bronkhorst leaves the Magistrate's Court in Hwange after he was charged with poaching Credit: Zinyange Auntony/AFP/Getty Images
Professional Zimbabwean hunter Theo Bronkhorst leaves the Magistrate's Court in Hwange after he was charged with poaching Credit: Zinyange Auntony/AFP/Getty Images

The American is believed to have shot the lion with a crossbow.

The wounded cat was then tracked for 40 hours before Dr Palmer fatally shot him with a gun, Mr Rodrigues said.

A professional hunter, Theo Bronkhorst, was accused of failing to "prevent an unlawful hunt". Court documents said he was supervising while Dr Palmer shot the animal.

Cecil the Lion in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe
Cecil the Lion in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe

Mr Bronkhorst was released on €710 bail after appearing in court in Hwange, about 435 miles west of the capital Harare. If convicted he faces up to 15 years in prison.

A second man, farm owner Honest Trymore Ndlovu, also appeared in court but was not charged and released from custody, his lawyer said.

The court documents made no mention of Dr Palmer as a suspect.

Read More: American dentist wanted by police in Zimbabwe after famous Cecil the lion is shot dead

The head of Zimbabwe's safari association said Cecil was lured into the kill zone and denied "a chance of a fair chase".

Using bait to lure the lion is deemed unethical by the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe, of which Mr Bronkhorst is a member. The association has since revoked his licence.

"Ethics are certainly against baiting. Animals are supposed to be given a chance of a fair chase," Emmanuel Fundira, the association's president, said. "In fact, it was not a hunt at all. The animal was baited, and that is not how we do it. It is not allowed."

It was not entirely clear whether baiting is allowed by Zimbabwe law.

Mr Fundira said the practice was both unethical and illegal. The conservation group Lion Aid says it is unethical but not expressly forbidden.

Organisations that foster and defend big-game hunting have distanced themselves from Dr Palmer, including those where he was a member.

Dr Palmer appeared in past versions of Safari Club International records dated as recently as July 5, but his name had been dropped from the standings as of Tuesday evening.

Corresponding pages featuring photos of him with an African lion, a southern white rhinoceros and an African elephant remained accessible on the club's website.

Glenn Hisey, director of records for the Minnesota-based Pope and Young Club, where Dr Palmer registered some of his killings by bow, had said the group was concerned about the news from Africa.

"If he violated controlling game laws there, he might have violated controlling game laws other places," Mr Hisey said, adding that Dr Palmer's listings with the club could be examined as more facts emerged.

Read More: WATCH: Jimmy Kimmel breaks down over Cecil the Lion on live TV - and he's not the only celeb upset over killing

According to US court records, Dr Palmer pleaded guilty in 2008 to making false statements to the US Fish and Wildlife Service about a black bear he fatally shot in western Wisconsin.

He had a permit to hunt but shot the animal outside the authorised zone in 2006, then tried to pass it off as being killed elsewhere, according to court documents. He was given a year's probation and fined nearly £1,925.

Cecil is believed to have been killed on July 1 and his carcass discovered days later.

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