Dr. Walter J. Palmer has become infamous for his killing of the beloved lion known as Cecil in early July. His office in Bloomington, Minnesota, Riverbluff Dental, has been closed. He is nowhere to be found. All of this information comes from America’s newspaper of record: The New York Times.
The issue is not the hunting of animals, but the taking of trophies, using what may seem to some as an obscene amount of money, to do so and absolve one of all responsibilities. It isn’t that Palmer hasn’t shot and killed a lion before. He has. We know this from the image of him with another lion.
Palmer’s full statement made 28 July 2015 is as follows:
“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.”
First, Palmer is in hiding. Yet he writes that “I have not been contacted by the authorities in Zimbabwe or in the U.S. about this situation.” If Palmer was sincere, then he would be back in Zimbabwe and present himself to the officials in the area where the kill was made. He knows where Hwange National Park is, which is more than most North Americans, because he has been there.
As an adult, Palmer is responsible for knowing and understanding the legality of his actions in the U.S. as well as any foreign country that he travels in.
It is not clear why he chose Zimbabwe or the area near Hwange National Park. Other countries besides Zimbabwe allow trophy hunting of lions including South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania, Botswana and Zambia.
There is a question of ethics. While luring an animal off the of a protected reserve isn’t in itself illegal, it would seem unethical. The point should be to find an animal that is not part of the protected reserve and to hunt off of a protected reserve.
Further, since he chose to be near Hwange National Park, he should have familiarized himself with the economy and the character of that area. With little effort he would have easily learned about Cecil and the Oxford University study. This would have taken less than 40 hours, the time he took to track down the wounded Cecil.
As a hunter, he should have been familiar with the backlash toward a hunter when the white deer at Kensington Metropark, Michigan was killed this year. The deer was killed in February, but the public only became aware in late June. That was just before the 1 July 2015 killing of Cecil.
The year before Michigan was again in the spotlight when an 11-year-old boy received death threats after killing a white 12-point buck in October. That shooting, also by cross bow, was legal.
Also in 2014, a former police officer sparked outrage when he killed “Big Boy,” an elk that was a community icon in Boulder County. The man, Sam Carter, was found guilty of illegal taking of big game, attempting to influence a public official, forgery and tampering with evidence according to an account by NBC News.
Carter was fined, but on four-year probation and required to do community service.
Hunters who want to avoid problems with the locals have been given a wake-up call in the United States long before the killing of Cecil. Perhaps the hunters, including Palmer, thought that the locals didn’t matter.
Moreover, Palmer must have known that something was wrong when the hunters attempted to remove the tracking collar. At that time, he could have reported this to the authorities. He could have met with the authorities, yet, instead it seems he returned to the U.S. and waited for the story to break. He also did something with Cecil’s head. That the authorities can’t find Cecil’s head is also very suspicious.
Palmer should have also been aware that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially proposed that African lions be put under the Endangered Species Act. FWS named habitat loss, loss of prey and human-lion conflict as the main three threats to the African lion population. Sport hunting is allowed in 16 of the 20 countries where lions remain, but was not considered a case of endangerment according to the official position of the FWS.
In the U.S., ignorance of the law isn’t considered a reasonable defense. Zimbabwe has 16 official languages and English is one of three most commonly used. The official website for the Zimbabwe Parliament is in English. The language shouldn’t be a problem. Palmer previously was convicted in the U.S. for making a false statement about a guided hunt in Wisconsin, during which he killed a black bear.
What is important is not where Palmer is, but where he is not. He is not in Zimbabwe speaking with the authorities and appearing in court with the hunter Theo Bronkhorst who was charged with “failing to prevent an unlawful hunt” and the farmer Honest Ndlovu, who will in court later for not having the proper permit.
Threatening the dentist with assault, battery or death is illegal. More wrongs do not make a right. As U.S. citizens, perhaps we can follow Jimmy Kimmel’s suggestion and make up for Cecil’s death by donating to the research team that was following Cecil: Wildlife Conservation Research Unit.
U.S. donors can give to the University of Oxford North America Office by visiting this link and selecting “WildCRU” in the drop down list.