It is estimated that less than 20,000 lions exist in the world today. This marks a 40% reduction in population in only two decades. The killing of Zimbabwe’s famed lion, Cecil the Lion, has dealt another blow to conservationist efforts, causing a shockwave of sadness spanning the plains of Zimbabwe to all corners of the globe. During his life, Cecil was one of the main attractions at Hwange National Park. Since 2008, the lion and his pride have been part of a study being conducted by Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU).
Cecil’s killer, Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer has come under fire, as investigations reveal the illegal manner by which the act was committed.
Cecil’s lifeless body was found about the outskirts of the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. The once-proud creature had been decapitated and skinned. Officials have revealed that the hunters (Palmer and his hunting guides) tied an animal carcass to their vehicle and scented an area about a kilometer away from the park, signaling to Cecil that a meal lay just beyond the protected territory. Palmer then shot Cecil with a crossbow which allowed him to monitor Cecil’s movements. After 40 hours, the men returned and Palmer used his rifle to kill Cecil. Palmer and the other men were also accused of attempting to destroy the radio collar in an effort to rid the evidence of the crime.
On July, 28th Palmer released a statement to KSTP-TV (a local news station in Saint Paul, Minnesota). It reads 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.”
What’s more, news of previous illicit hunting acts have further damaged the credibility of the Minnesota dentist. In 2006, Palmer had been granted a license to hunt within a specified zone in Wisconsin's woodlands. Palmer ended up killing a black bear inhabiting land 40 miles away from the legal hunting area. Court documents reveal that Palmer lied to a federal agent by claiming the bear had been killed within the prescribed zone. In 2008, he was sentenced to one year of probation and made to pay $2,938 in fines.
Nevertheless, Palmer has become one of the most hated men in America. Men, women, and children (some dressed as lions) have began picketing outside of Palmer’s dentistry office. Flowers and stuffed lions have been left outside of his office in remembrance of the creature; others have sent the tons of stuffed lions directly to the dentist. The outrage appears in comments on social media sites as well as crowd-sourced review sites. One Yelp.com reviewer attacked with the following comment:
“Weird visit. Some guy lured me into the dental chair by waving beef jerky at me. Once I sat down, Dr. Palmer viciously attacked my one cavity, but was unable to hit it with the drill. Profusely bleeding from my mouth, I fled the building and wandered the surrounding woods for a day and a half. Thankfully, I didn’t bleed out. My family would’ve been killed and eaten by my neighbors. Two stars.”
Palmer has also received thousands of death threats by angry animal rights activists. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) even took to Twitter to call for the public hanging of Palmer.
Palmer has since gone into hiding. Zimbabwe’s governing officials are currently calling upon the United States to extradite Palmer. A petition calling for the United States to cooperate with the extradition proceedings has already received 100,000 signatures from American citizens.
On a brighter note, professor David MacDonald, director of Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit has revealed that Cecil’s cubs are being protected by Cecil’s brother, Jericho. Cecil’s offspring are expected to survive.