Protesters have gathered outside Dr. Palmer's Bloomington, Minn., dental practice, which according to local news affiliate Fox 9, will likely remain closed through the end of this week. Dr. Palmer wrote a letter to his patients apologizing for the disruption and attempting to explain how he unknowingly killed a protected animal during his big game hunt in Zimbabwe.
The letter, obtained by Fox 9, began with Dr. Palmer telling patients that although hunting is "one of my passions outside dentistry," he doesn't talk about it often "because it can be a divisive and emotionally charged topic." Fair enough.
Dr. Palmer went on to say that during his recent Zimbabwe hunting expedition, he "hired several professional guides and they secured all proper permits." As far as he knew, "everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted."
As for Cecil, a popular attraction at the Hwange National Park who was also being studied in an Oxford University program? In the letter obtained by Fox 9, Dr. Palmer insisted that he "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." Instead, he "relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt."
Those guides, professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst and farmowner Honest Ndlovu, could face poaching charges. According to NBC News, Bronkhorst is due back in court next week after posting $1,200 bail. Wildlife officials have accused Bronkhorst and Ndlovu "of taking $50,000 from Palmer in order to coax Cecil out of the Hwange National Park and onto private land, where he was beheaded and skinned," per NBC News. If found guilty, the men could be fined $20,000 and each face a sentence of up to 10 years in jail.
Dr. Palmer has "not been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or in the U.S. about this situation," he wrote in his letter to patients, adding that he "will assist them in any inquiries they may have." Per NBC News, police in Zimbabwe would like to question Dr. Palmer for his role in Cecil's killing, but haver not commented on possible charges.
"Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion," Dr. Palmer wrote in his letter to patients. "That was never my intention."
Oy, this is quite the saga—but there's more! Animal activists, unsurprisingly, are outraged over Dr. Palmer's role in Cecil's death. PETA President Ingrid Newkirk, specifically, had some harsh words for Cecil, telling E! News in a statement: "Hunting is a coward's pastime. If, as has been reported, this dentist and his guides lured Cecil out of the park with food so as to shoot him on private property, because shooting him in the park would have been illegal, he needs to be extradited, charged, and, preferably, hanged."
Newkirk's statement continued: "To get a thrill at the cost of a life, this man gunned down a beloved lion, Cecil with a high-powered weapon. All wild animals are beloved by their own mates and infants, but to hunters like this overblown, over-privileged little man, who lack empathy, understanding, and respect for living creatures, they are merely targets to kill, decapitate, and hang up on a wall as a trophy. The photograph of this dentist, smiling over the corpse of another animal, who, like Cecil, wanted only to be left in peace, will disgust every caring soul in the world."
—Additional reporting by Sara Kitnick & Baker Machado