Minneapolis dentist Walter Palmer closes office, goes into hiding

A Minnesota congresswomen is asking the U.S. Attorney’s office and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service to investigate allegations that big game hunter and Minneapolis-based dentist Walter Palmer illegally killed a black maned lion dubbed “Cecil” during a guided hunt in Africa.

Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum said in a statement the killing of the lion was “a disgraceful display of callous cruelty,” arguing Palmer “lured [Cecil] from a protected Zimbabwean National Park, hunted with a bow and arrow, skinned and beheaded” the famous cat.

“For those of us committed to ending poaching of iconic African species I strongly believe the U.S. Attorneys’ Office and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should investigate whether U.S. laws were violated related to conspiracy, bribery of foreign officials, and the illegal hunting of a protected species or animal,” McCollum said in a July 29 statement. “I will also continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pursue laws that protect iconic, threatened and endangered animals around the world from barbaric ‘sport hunting’ at the hands of ultra-wealthy elites.”

McCollum is the co-chair of the International Congressional Conservation Caucus and serves as the ranking Democrat on the Department of Interior Appropriations subcommittee.

Meanwhile, reports indicate Palmer has shut down his dental business in the face of vicious protest and has gone into hiding.

Palmer’s hired spokesman, Jon Austin, said he believed Palmer was in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. No one answered the door at Palmer’s home, and a woman who came out of his dental office in nearby Bloomington said he wasn’t there or taking patients. Phone calls to listed home numbers went unanswered.

According to U.S. court records, Palmer pleaded guilty in 2008 to making false statements to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about a black bear he fatally shot in western Wisconsin. Palmer had a permit to hunt but shot the animal outside the authorized zone in 2006, then tried to pass it off as being killed elsewhere, according to court documents. He was given one year probation and fined nearly $3,000.

Palmer has several hunts on record with the Pope and Young Club, where bowhunters register big game taken in North America for posterity, said Glenn Hisey, the club’s director of records. Hisey said he didn’t have immediate access to records showing the types and number of animals killed by Palmer, but he noted that club records involve legal hunts “taken under our rules of fair chase.”

Although African game wouldn’t be eligible, Hisey said he alerted the group’s board that Palmer’s ethics were being called into question. He said Palmer’s domestic records could be jeopardized if he’s found to have done something illegal abroad.

Also, one of America’s top big game organizations has suspended Palmer’s membership “pending the outcome of an investigation” into Cecil’s death.

“Safari Club International supports a full and thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding the death of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe,” the 47,000 member organization said. “SCI has imposed immediate emergency membership suspensions of both the involved hunter and his guide/professional hunter, and they will remain in place pending the outcome of an investigation.”

A Facebook page for Palmer’s Minnesota dental practice was taken offline Tuesday after users flooded it with comments condemning Palmer’s involvement in the hunt. Hundreds of similar comments inundated a page for his dental practice on the review platform Yelp, which prior to Tuesday had only three comments.

Some people left stuffed animals at the door to his shuttered office in a sign of protest.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.