The U.S Fish & Wildlife Service said Thursday it’s trying to reach the Minnesota dentist who killed a protected lion while on a guided hunt in Zimbabwe. The agency asked Walter Palmer to “contact us immediately.”
Here are some details about the case that has gained global attention:
Walter James Palmer, 55, is a dentist in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington. He’s an active big-game hunter and has many kills to his name.
Palmer, a bow hunter, hired local guides for a hunting trip in Zimbabwe. During the hunt, he used an arrow to hit a lion that authorities said was lured from a protected wildlife preserve. They then tracked the wounded animal for 40 hours before it was shot with a gun, according to Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force.
The lion, known as Cecil, had been collared as part of a research study.
On Tuesday, Palmer issued a statement saying he relied on his guides to ensure the hunt was legal. He also sent a letter to patients. But he’s made no public comments since then.
Edward Grace, deputy chief of law enforcement for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, reiterated Thursday that his agency is investigating circumstances surrounding Cecil’s killing.
“That investigation will take us wherever the facts lead,” Grace said. “At this point in time, however, multiple efforts to contact Dr. Walter Palmer have been unsuccessful. We ask that Dr. Palmer or his representative contact us immediately.”
Palmer hasn’t returned emails from The Associated Press. His office has been closed and his office voicemail isn’t accepting messages. His other listed phone numbers have busy signals. His exact whereabouts are unknown.
An attorney who represented Palmer in a prior case also has not returned messages.
Authorities in Zimbabwe have also said they want to speak with Palmer, but they haven’t charged him with a crime.
The U.S. has an extradition agreement with Zimbabwe, so in theory he could be sent there to face the legal system if charges are filed.
Zimbabwean prosecutors have charged the hunter who supervised Palmer’s outing, Theo Bronkhorst, with killing a lion not authorized to be hunted. Prosecutors have not yet charged a second suspect who was named as an accomplice.
The discovery that Cecil, the star of a Zimbabwe national park, had been lured and killed has led to outrage in the U.S. The American dentist has been vilified on social media.
But in Zimbabwe, outside environmental and activist circles, the reaction was muted. Most people questioned in downtown Harare hadn’t actually heard about the lion and said they were too busy to care about it.
There has been some backlash in hunting circles. Safari Club International suspended Palmer’s membership and called for a “full and thorough investigation” into the lion’s death.
The club, which promotes big-game hunting worldwide, issued a statement late Wednesday saying memberships for Palmer and Bronkhorst will be on hiatus until investigations are complete.
Separately, the U.N. General Assembly adopted its first-ever resolution aimed at combatting illicit trafficking in wildlife on Thursday. The resolution, which is not legally binding, was the product of more than two years of negotiations.
Its sponsors were asked whether it would have done anything to help save Cecil. Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Harald Braun said some hunting activities are legal, and some are illegal, and this resolution fights all illegal aspects of hunting.