HARARE, Zimbabwe, July 28 (UPI) — A Minnesota dentist has been accused of paying more than $50,000 to illegally kill a popular African lion named Cecil, a move that could put the rest of the lion’s pride in danger, Zimbabwe wildlife officials in the country said Tuesday.
Britain’s The Telegraph first identified the foreign hunter as Walter James Palmer, a dentist in Bloomington, Minn., based on reports from unidentified sources. The Safari Operators Association and the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force confirmed the identification to CBS News.
Palmer allegedly paid a hunting group for a private safari to stalk the 13-year-old lion and kill him. The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority said the group of hunters allegedly lured Cecil out of the protected Hwange National Park using bait.
Cecil was shot with an arrow and stalked for 40 hours before he was shot with a gun. The lion’s decapitated and skinned body was found by wildlife officials using a GPS tracker.
Cecil had been tagged and studied for years by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford University and was regularly identified and observed by tourists on safari.
Andrew Loveridge, one of the researchers with the Oxford project, told National Geographic Cecil’s death could have lasting repercussions for his pride and a fellow coalition pride with another male named Jericho. Between the two male lions, they had six lionesses and about a dozen cubs.
“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,” Loveridge said.
He said recent research has also shown lion populations that have been socially disrupted are at more risk of coming into conflict by entering human communities.
“This is largely because movement patterns become erratic and lions are more likely to leave the park,” Loveridge said.
The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority said Theo Bronchorst, a professional hunter with Bushman Safaris, faces criminal charges for his alleged involvement in Cecil’s shooting because he was not allocated a lion on his hunting quota for the year. Honest Trymore Ndlovu, the landowner where Cecil was killed, was also being accused of colluding with the hunters.
Meanwhile, Palmer disputed allegations he did anything illegal in an interview with the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.
“Obviously, some things are being misreported,” he said adding that intended to release a full statement later Tuesday.
On Tuesday, his office was closed for the day with a notice on the door referring visitors to a public relations firm. He had also shut down his practice’s Facebook page after it was inundated with messages criticizing his alleged actions.
“You utter utter scum,” one comment read. “You should be in jail, and you should hang your head in shame.”
It’s unclear if Palmer will face poaching charges in Zimbabwe, the BBC reported.
“We arrested two people and now we are looking for Palmer in connection with the same case,” police spokeswoman Charity Charamba said.