Friday 30 September 2016

Cecil the lion's killer Walter Palmer believes he acted legally

Published 07/09/2015 | 07:23

Cecil the Lion
Cecil the Lion

The US dentist whose killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe fuelled a global backlash emerged for an interview in which he disputed some accounts of the hunt.

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Walter Palmer also expressed agitation at the animosity directed at those close to him and said he will soon be returning to work.

CENTRE OF STORM: Dentist and hunter Walter Palmer
CENTRE OF STORM: Dentist and hunter Walter Palmer

He has spent more than a month out of sight after becoming the target of protests and threats, intends to return to his Minneapolis dental practice on Tuesday.

The interview was conducted jointly by The Associated Press and the Minneapolis Star Tribune and advisers said it would be the only one granted.

Mr Palmer said he believes he acted legally and that he was stunned to find out his hunting party had killed one of Zimbabwe's treasured animals.

"If I had known this lion had a name and was important to the country or a study obviously I wouldn't have taken it," he said.

"Nobody in our hunting party knew before or after the name of this lion."

Cecil was a fixture in the vast Hwange National Park and had been fitted with a GPS collar as part of Oxford University lion research.

Mr Palmer said he shot the big cat using an arrow from his compound bow outside the park's borders but it did not die immediately.

He disputed conservationist accounts that the wounded lion wandered for 40 hours and was finished off with a gun, saying it was tracked down the next day and killed with an arrow.

Mr Palmer refused to say how much he paid for the hunt, or discuss others he has undertaken.

Some high-level Zimbabwean officials have called for Mr Palmer's extradition, but no formal steps toward getting the dentist to return to the country have been publicly disclosed.

Mr Palmer's adviser, Joe Friedberg, a Minneapolis lawyer, said he has heard nothing from authorities about domestic or international investigations since early August.

Mr Friedberg said he offered to have Mr Palmer take questions from US Fish and Wildlife Service authorities on the condition the session be recorded. He said he never heard back.

After Mr Palmer was named in late July as the hunter who killed Cecil, his Bloomington clinic and Eden Prairie home became protest sites, and animal welfare groups vandalised a holiday property he owns in Florida.

Mr Palmer has been vilified across social media, with some posts suggesting violence against him.

He described himself as "heartbroken" for causing disruptions for staff at his clinic, which was shut for weeks until reopening in late August without him on the premises.

And he said the ordeal has been especially hard on his wife and adult daughter, who both felt threatened.

"I don't understand that level of humanity to come after people not involved at all," Mr Palmer said.

He said he feels safe enough to return to work, saying his staff and his patients support him and want him back, but declined to say where he has spent the last six weeks or describe security steps he has taken.

"I've been out of the public eye. That doesn't mean I'm in hiding," Mr Palmer said. "I've been among people, family and friends. Location is really not that important."

Mr Palmer, who has several big-game kills to his name, reportedly paid thousands of dollars for the guided hunt but would mpt discuss money.

Theo Bronkhorst, a professional hunter who helped Mr Palmer, has been charged with "failure to prevent an illegal hunt".

Honest Ndlovu, whose property is near the park in western Zimbabwe, faces a charge of allowing the lion hunt to occur on his farm without proper authority.

Asked whether he would return to Zimbabwe for future hunts, Mr Palmer said he did not know.

He estimated he had been there four times and said: "Zimbabwe has been a wonderful country for me to hunt in, and I have always followed the laws."

In addition to the Cecil controversy, Mr 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 outside the authorised hunting zone.

He was given one year probation and fined nearly 3,000 dollars (£1980) as part of a plea agreement.

Cecil's killing set off a fierce debate over trophy hunting in Africa.

Zimbabwe tightened regulations for lion, elephant and leopard hunting after the incident, and three major US airlines changed policies to ban shipment of the trophies.

Press Association

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