American dentist, Walter James Palmer, has been under fire recently after he hunted and killed Zimbabwe’s beloved local star, Cecil the Lion.
Cecil, who is well known at Hwange National Park, became a local legend after he was reportedly kicked out of his pride three years ago. After meeting another male, Jericho, they gained six lionesses and several cubs. These cubs are now in danger if another lion comes in and takes over the pride. The exact number of cubs in existence is unclear, but it is typical in a lion’s circle for the cubs of a deceased lion to be killed off when another lion comes into power.
“The first thing that’s going to happen or likely happen is that the next competing male is going to move in, kill all his cubs to bring the female into estrus and to wipe out his genetic line—it’s kind of like Game of Thrones,” Jeff Corwin, nature conservationist and TV personality, told MSNBC.
Cecil was known for having no fear of cameras or flash photography, making it easy for tourists to capture the perfect picture to take home.
He was also being studied in an Oxford University research program.
“The lion, Cecil, was a remarkable individual. Remarkable particularly because we have studied him for so long,” Professor David MacDonald, founding director of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford University, told NBC News.
James Palmer was accused, on Tuesday, of killing Cecil without a permit, after paying $50,000 to the two men who helped him.
Together, the three men lured the well-known lion from its home using bait and then shot him with a crossbow, chairman of Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, Johnny Rodrigues, told reporters.
The two men who helped Palmer, Zimbabwean hunter, Theo Bronkhorst, and private game park owner, Honest Ndlovu, were set to face poaching charges on Wednesday, for the killing of the lion on July 1. Authorities say they did not have valid hunting permits.
Bronkhost appeared in court on Wednesday to face these charges and was released on $1,200 bail to appear in court again on August 5, reports the Associated Press.
Joint statements form the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority and the Safari Operators Association announced that Bronkhorst has been stripped of his license while he faces criminal charges.
Bronkhorst and Ndlovu could be fined up to $20,000 and receive a sentence of up to 10 years in jail.
Palmer claims he was led to believe that everything about this hunt was legal and secured with the correct permits. He says he was completely unaware of who the lion was until after its death.
“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,” Palmer said in a statement released to NBC News. “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.”
Palmer continued, in his statement on Tuesday, to say that he was deeply remorseful about this particular incident and that he will try to assist authorities in any way he can.
“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,” Palmer stated. “Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion.”
Since the dentists Tuesday statement, he has shut down his Minnesota dental practice due to an explosion of protests outside its doors.
Palmer sent a letter to his patients to apologize.
“I apologize profoundly for this inconvenience and promise you that we will do our best to resume normal operations as soon as possible,” the 55-year-old dentist wrote to his patients. “As you may have already hear, I have been in the news over the last few days for reasons that have nothing to do with my profession or the care I provide for you. I was you to know of this situation and my involvement.”
He also explained, in the letter, about his hobby being the sport of hunting and that he does not like to discuss it with his patients because “it can be a divisive and emotionally charged topic.”
This is not the first time Palmer has gotten himself into trouble with hunting. He reportedly has a U.S. felony record for killing a black bear in Wisconsin in 2006, which he pleaded guilty to in 2008.
It is possible Palmer may not even face charges for this incident. According to U.K.-based charity LionAid, which advocated for the animal’s protection, it is legal to bait lions in Zimbabwe, and even to kill them outside of national parks using a bow and arrow. Whether or not they are wearing a radio-collar (Cecile was) also does not matter.
However, LionAid also explains that in this particular case, the landowner did not have a “quota” for how many lions could be killed on his property, making this killing illegal.
The group also explained that sine Palmer was merely the client in this hunt, following his two guides, he could be off the hook for charges.