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MN dentist faces backlash after killing famed Zimbabwe lion; he thought hunt was legal

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A Minnesota dentist is being barraged with criticism after acknowledging that he hunted and killed a famed lion in Zimbabwe earlier this month, and his actions may become the subject of a federal investigation.

Dr. Walter Palmer released a statement to The Associated Press Tuesday afternoon, identifying himself as the man who shot Cecil the lion, noting he had the proper legal permits and hired several professional guides for the hunt.

Palmer, who has a dental office in Bloomington, was with professional hunter Theo Bronchorst, of Bushman Safaris, when the lion was allegedly lured out of the park and shot with a bow and arrow on July 6.

The animal was then tracked for 40 hours before being killed with a gun, and then decapitated and skinned, the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF) wrote on its Facebook page.

ZCTF, along with The Telegraph and Sky News, said Palmer paid $55,000 for the hunt.

Zimbabwe officials have said they are looking for Palmer in connection to this case, reports note.

Public backlash

Cecil's death has outraged conservationists around the world, and Palmer is feeling the backlash.

Palmer's practice – River Bluff Dental in Bloomington – shut down its Facebook page after being inundated with comments and violent threats Tuesday. The practice's website was also disabled.

By Tuesday afternoon, the sidewalk outside Palmer's dental office was turned into a makeshift shrine, complete with a stuffed lion and other toy animals.

Others have been filing negative reviews on Palmer's Yelp page, the Pioneer Press notes.

A staff member at the dental practice told FOX 9 the office will likely be closed for the rest of the week.

Palmer has a long history of big-game hunting, reports note. He was featured in a 2009 New York Times story about the pursuit and his kills have been well documented on the Internet.

He faced charges related to trophy hunting in the past: in 2008, he was sentenced to a year probation after pleading guilty to charges that he made a false statement to federal wildlife officials regarding a black bear hunt in Wisconsin, WEAU reported.

British journalist Piers Morgan wrote on the Daily Mail website Tuesday that photos of Palmer with his trophy kills "make me puke," and called him a "smirking, vile, callous assassin with no heart."

Late Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota said she will ask for a federal investigation into the case, according to MPR News.

“To bait and kill a threatened animal, like this African lion, for sport cannot be called hunting, but rather a disgraceful display of callous cruelty,” McCollum said in a statement. "I strongly believe the U.S. Attorneys’ Office and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should investigate whether U.S. laws were violated related to conspiracy, bribery of foreign officials, and the illegal hunting of a protected species or animal."

2 face poaching charges

A joint news release issued by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe on Tuesday discusses charges against Bronchorst and Honest Trymore Ndlovu, the person who owns the land where Cecil was hunted.

Palmer is not mentioned in the release.

It is alleged that Bronchorst "connived" with Ndlovu to kill the lion, the release notes. Investigations have found that "the killing of the lion was illegal since the land owner was not allocated a lion on his hunting quota for 2015."

The release added: "In this case, both the professional hunter and land owner had no permit or quota to justify the offtake of the lion and therefore are liable for the illegal hunt."

Bronchorst and Ndlovu are expected to appear in court Wednesday in Zimbabwe to face poaching charges, the release says.

The 13-year-old lion, who is well known for its black mane and was regularly sighted by tourists in Hwange National Park, had been fitted with a tracking collar monitored for research purposes by Oxford University, CNN notes. The collar was removed after he was killed.

"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. This is standard procedure for lions," Johnny Rodrigues, chairman for ZCTF, wrote on the organization's Facebook page.

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