Look, if I'd killed a beautiful animal in a cowardly and apparently illegal way, and in the process inspired outrage around the planet, I'd be laying low now too. But you've got to come out sometime, Walter Palmer.
The Minnesota dentist gained instant infamy this week after his direct involvement in the death of Zimbabwe's Cecil the lion earlier this month was revealed. Palmer's hunting group lured Cecil from Hwange National Park, where he was shot with an arrow and finished off with a rifle some forty hours later. After the hunting party killed the animal, they removed his head and reportedly attempted to destroy his tracking device. The news of the killing of Cecil — and the way the "hunt" was conducted — sparked fury, and legal inquiry, on two continents. Two Zimbabwean men were arrested and then released on bail over charges of poaching. In a statement, Palmer said that "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." But now it seems he may be reconsidering that. Multiple news outlets are reporting that the dentist seems to have gone rogue.
It is undoubtedly a scary time for Palmer and his family. His offices have been closed this week, as protestors have set up memorials for the lion and also left messages for Palmer to "ROT IN HELL" outside the doors. His Yelp page has become a full-fledged hatefest. Reporters have appeared at his home, and PETA, ever reasonable, has called for him to be hanged. For him to want to protect himself is a normal reaction. What's concerning is that Palmer is also a guy who was "fined $3,000 and given a year's probation after pleading guilty over the illegal killing of a black bear in Wisconsin in 2006" after hunting the animal a full forty miles outside the permitted area, and that he "falsely stated that he thought the bear had been killed legally." He has also been convicted of fishing without a license. Kind of makes his assurances that "this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted" a little more questionable. Because the details of it, from the luring of the animal to the attempted removal of his tracking device, sure don't sound like some totally on the up and up hunting experience.
Zimbabwe's Environment Minister Oppah Muchinguri has now come forward to ask that Palmer "be held accountable for his illegal action," calling him "foreign poacher" and adding that "As we frantically try to protect our wildlife from organized gangs such as this one, there are people... who can connive to undermine Zimbabwean laws. One can conclude with confidence that Dr Palmer, being an American citizen, had a well-orchestrated agenda which would tarnish the image of Zimbabwe and further strain the relationship between Zimbabwe and the USA." And now that a White House petition requesting that he be extradited has reached nearly 170,000 signatures as of Friday morning, the administration is expected to weigh in with a response.
But Edward Grace, deputy chief of law enforcement for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told CNN Thursday that "At this point in time, multiple efforts to contact Dr. Walter Palmer have been unsuccessful. We ask that Dr. Palmer or his representative contact us immediately." And Service director Dan Ashe tweeted out that "USFWS is investigating the tragic killing of #CecilTheLion. Will go where facts lead. Efforts to contact Dr. Palmer so far unsuccessful…. #CNN reporting Dr. Palmer seeking to cooperate. EZ to do. U or ur representative please contact #USFWS immediately."
Palmer's current desire for privacy is understandable. His track record of disregarding hunting laws and his current apparent unwillingness to cooperate with authorities is not. What must it feel like for him, now, to be so pursued? What must it be like, to be hiding and hoping for mercy?