American Dentist Identified As Zimbabwe Lion Poacher

I recently reported on the illegal killing of Cecil, Zimbabwe’s most famous lion. He was shot with a bow, then stalked for forty hours while he suffered before being finished off with a gun. Cecil was then beheaded and skinned. Authorities originally believed the killer was a tourist from Spain, but new information has identified American dentist Walter Palmer.

Walter Palmer, left, with one of his many trophies. Source: The Telegraph
Walter Palmer, left, with one of his many “trophies”. Source: The Telegraph

Cecil was protected and wearing a GPS tracking collar, and it was illegal to kill him. It is unfortunately not uncommon, though, for lions to be lured out of their protected areas with bait and then killed, which is what happened to Cecil. Even though he was lured out of the protected area, though, his killing was still illegal.

The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force say the hunter was not a Spaniard as originally believed, but American dentist Walter Palmer. Palmer left Cecil skinned and headless on the outskirts of the conservation park.

ZCTF’s Johnny Rodrigues said in a statement:

“They went hunting at night with a spotlight and they spotted Cecil. They tied a dead animal to their vehicle to lure Cecil out of the park and they scented an area about half a kilometre from the park. [After originally shooting Cecil with a bow but failing to kill him] They tracked him down and found him 40 hours later when they shot him with a gun.”

Palmer’s spokesman made the following statement on his behalf:

“As far as I understand, Walter believes that he might have shot that lion that has been referred to as Cecil. What he’ll tell you is that he had the proper legal permits and he had hired several professional guides, so he’s not denying that he may be the person who shot this lion. He is a big-game hunter; he hunts the world over.”

That, of course, is a big load of you know what, because permits or not, Cecil was off limits and it was an illegal hunt. The organizers of the hunt have been arrested, but there is no word of whether or not the killer himself, Palmer, will face any charges. Many believe he and the others involved should be charged with poaching.

On Tuesday, Zimbabwe National Parks issued a statement confirming the charges:

“Theo Bronkhorst, a professional hunter with Bushman Safaris, is facing criminal charges for allegedly killing a collared lion on Antoinette farm in Gwayi Conservancy, Hwange district on 1 July 2015. All persons implicated in this case are due to appear in court facing poaching charges. Both the professional hunter and land owner had no permit or quota to justify the off-take of the lion and therefore are liable for the illegal hunt.”

Walter Palmer is not just your run of the mill American dentist, though. He is an “accomplished” big game hunter with a history of killing endangered species and bending the rules.

Palmer, middle, posing with an endangered White Rhino in South Africa. Source: The Telegraph
Palmer, middle, posing with an endangered White Rhino in South Africa. Source: The Telegraph

In 2008, Palmer pleaded guilty to making a false statement to federal wildlife officials concerning the location of the killing of a black bear during a guided hunt in Wisconsin. He was sentenced to a year probation.

The animals killed by Palmer include the White Rhino, Lions, Polar Bears, Bison, Grizzly Bears, Cougars, Leopards, and the endangered sheep species, Nevada Bighorn.

Palmer with a leopard killed in Zimbabwe in 2010. Source: The Telegraph
Palmer with a leopard killed in Zimbabwe in 2010. Source: The Telegraph

Dr Andrew Loveridge, one of the principal researchers on the project studying Cecil, said the impact of Cecil’s killing with have a profound impact on his pride. Cecil had watched over a large pride with another male lion named Jericho, but the lives of Cecil’s cubs are now in danger. Said Loveridge:

“Jericho as a single male will be unable to defend the two prides and cubs from new males that invade the territory. This is what we most often see happening in these cases. Infanticide is the most likely outcome.”

UPDATE: Palmer has released the following statement in response to Cecil’s poaching, apparently playing the victim and claiming no responsibility or knowledge of his wrongdoing:

“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.”

Personally, I find it very hard to believe that such an experienced big game hunter would be careless enough to not check on the legality of the hunt. It is also reprehensible that he would bait and lure a lion away from a protected area for the sole purpose of killing it for a trophy.

Because one rich American dentist wanted so badly to kill an apex predator in Zimbabwe, the lives of many lions are now in jeopardy. Let there be now doubt about it: Cecil was murdered. He was poached. He was killed illegally. He was a collared lion in a protected area who was lured from safety onto private property where he was tortured, skinned, and beheaded. And Mr. Palmer needs to answer for his actions.