Walter Palmer's First Interview About Cecil The Lion Makes It Pretty Clear That He Doesn't Feel Sorry About The Hunt
The Minnesota dentist who shot and killed Cecil the lion in an illegal hunt in Zimbabwe has finally broken his silence. Walter Palmer spoke about Cecil the lion and the hunt in his first interview with the Associated Press and Minneapolis' Star Tribune newspaper Sunday, where he talked about the impacts of media attention and threats from activist groups on his family and his practice. In the interview, Palmer said he will resume work at his practice Tuesday, but he didn't say anything that indicated that he was sorry for his part in Cecil's death.
Palmer, whose practice in Bloomington, Minnesota, swarmed with protests for weeks after Cecil's death, has not yet been charged with any formal crime. The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said in July that Cecil was lured out of his home in Hwange National Park and shot with a crossbow, according to CNN. The task force said that Cecil didn't die immediately. Instead, it said Cecil lived for another 40 hours until the hunters tracked him down and shot and killed him with a gun. He was then skinned and beheaded, so that Palmer could return to the U.S. with his head.
The guide for the hunt, Theo Bronkhorst, and the property owner of the adjacent land where Cecil was shot, Honest Trymore Ndlovu, have been charged with participating in an illegal hunt and could face prison time if convicted. Bronkhorst has said, "We had done everything above board," according to the Star Tribune.
Cecil was a beloved local favorite in Zimbabwe and the subject of conservation research, so news of his death caused a worldwide uproar. Jimmy Kimmel fought back tears on the air when he spoke about the lion's death, wild animal researcher Jane Goodall said she was "shocked and outraged," and celebrities like model Cara Delevingne, actress Alyssa Milano, and TV host Sharon Osbourne condemned the hunt to their combined 8.9 million followers on Twitter, according to CNN.
Despite all of this, the quotes from Palmer's interview do not seem regretful, and he did not once say he was sorry for his role in the lion's death. Rather, he maintained that he thought the hunt was legal and that he and others in his party did not know that Cecil was the well-known, 13-year-old black mane lion. Many trophy hunters have defended Palmer, citing conservation as a justification for big game hunting in Africa. Palmer expressed "regret" for the course of events surrounding the hunt, but then added that all of his actions were legal:
If I had known this lion had a name and was important to the country or a study obviously I wouldn't have taken it. Nobody in our hunting party knew before or after the name of this lion.
Palmer gave the interview in the presence of attorney Joe Friedberg and a public relations consultant. He said he was not in hiding over the past few weeks, but that he was keeping a low profile for his wife and daughter, who were devastated by the media's attacks:
I have a lot of staff members, and I'm a little heartbroken at the disruption in their lives. And I’m a health professional. I need to get back to my staff and my patients, and they want me back. That’s why I'm back.
Palmer said his wife and daughter were threatened on social media, and that he didn't "understand that level of humanity to come after people not involved at all," according to the Star Tribune. Friedberg said he was there as an unpaid consultant because there "are no official allegations that [Palmer] has done anything wrong." After news first broke of Cecil's death, media reports said Palmer, an accomplished big game hunter, paid $50,000 to hunt Cecil, but Palmer told the Star Tribune that number was wrong, according to . He would not say whether he paid more or less than that amount.
When asked about whether he would return to Zimbabwe for future hunts, Palmer said, "I don't know about the future." He estimated that he had been to the country four times and said, "Zimbabwe has been a wonderful country for me to hunt in, and I have always followed the laws," according to the Associated Press.
Zimbabwean authorities said they wanted Palmer extradited after the hunt so he could face legal charges, but legal experts told the Star Tribune that a diplomatic act of that kind was unlikely to happen for a suspected wildlife crime. Officials for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said a few weeks ago that they were investigating Cecil's killing, but they haven't revealed any more information since that announcement.
In 2008, Palmer pleaded guilty to making false statements to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about a black bear that he fatally shot outside of an authorized hunting zone in western Wisconsin. He was given one year probation and fined almost $3,000 as part of a plea deal, according to the Associated Press.
The hunt reignited a worldwide debate about trophy hunting of endangered wildlife in Africa, forced Zimbabwe to tighten regulations for lion, elephant, and leopard hunting, and spurred three major U.S. airlines to ban the shipment of trophies from big game hunts, according to the AP.
Palmer wouldn't reveal any other details of the hunt, but the simplicity of his responses make it clear that he doesn't see anything wrong with his "sport" or the killing of lions, generally.