Man accused in African lion death thought hunt was legal

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (KRON/CNN) A Minnesota man accused of illegally killing a protected lion in Zimbabwe is being sought on poaching charges, Zimbabwean officials said Tuesday.

Walter James Palmer has released a statement saying he thought everything about his trip was legal and wasn’t aware of the animal’s status “until the end of the hunt.”

Palmer, a dentist who lives in the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie, has a felony record in the U.S. related to shooting a black bear in Wisconsin.

The lion that was killed was a 13-year-old prized lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, where visitors reportedly sighted the animal frequently. He had been outfitted with a GPS collar and was part of a study that Oxford University in England was conducting.

A police official in Zimbabwe said that two Zimbabweans had been arrested in the case and that police were looking for Palmer.

But Palmer said he hasn’t heard from U.S. or Zimbabwean authorities but would assist them in any inquiries.

“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,” said Palmer.

Palmer said he hired professional guides who secured proper permits. “To my knowledge, everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted,” he said in the statement.

Johnny Rodrigues, head of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said on July 6 Palmer shot Cecil with an arrow but failed to kill him. Then Palmer and one of the two Zimbabweans arrested in the case tracked the lion, finding him about 40 hours later and shooting him to death with a gun, Rodrigues said.

They discovered that he had been fitted with a GPS collar and tried to destroy it, Rodrigues said.

Cecil was skinned and beheaded, Rodrigues said. Contrary to earlier reports, he said, the head has not been found.

“The saddest part of all is that, now that Cecil is dead, the next lion in the hierarchy, Jericho will most likely kill all Cecil’s cubs so that he can insert his own bloodline into the females,” Rodrigues said. “This is standard procedure for lions.”

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

Palmer’s whereabouts were unknown Tuesday. No one answered the door at his home, and a woman who came out of his dental office in nearby Bloomington said he wasn’t there or taking patients Tuesday. Phone calls to listed home numbers went unanswered.

In his statement Palmer said, “I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion.”

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