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US Police Open Investigation as Lion-Killing Dentist Faces 'Terroristic Threats'

Walter Palmer has been forced to close his practice in Minnesota, while authorities have stepped up patrols as protests and online condemnation continue to rage.

by Charlotte Meredith
Jul 30 2015, 11:45am

Photo par Ann Heisenfelt/AP

"Terroristic threats" have been made against an American dentist who killed a cherished lion in Zimbabwe, prompting a police investigation, as hundreds protested outside the accused's office on Wednesday night.

Walter Palmer has been forced to close his practice in Minnesota, while authorities have stepped up patrols around the dental office.

Deputy Chief Mike Hartley said that his department were made aware of the threats on Tuesday, and that police would investigate the matter "like any other similar offence," Reuters reported. 

Palmer, meanwhile, has advised his patients to seek care elsewhere since facing the escalating wrath of animal lovers and conservationists. The 55-year-old has remained secluded and has not appeared in public since being identified, as protests at his suburban Minneapolis clinic and intense online condemnation continue.

Related: Calls for Cecil the Lion's Killer to Be Hanged as Suspects Are Due in Court

Palmer, who has a felony record in the US related to shooting a black bear in Wisconsin, referenced the situation in a note to his patients.

"I understand and respect that not everyone shares the same views on hunting," he wrote in the letter, which was obtained by a local Fox television affiliate, KMSP.

Palmer added that the matter had disrupted his ability to see patients. The note said the practice would "resume normal operations as soon as possible," according to KMSP.

Here is the full letter:

To my valued patients:

As you may have already heard, I have been in the news over the last few days for reasons that have nothing to do with my profession or the care I provide for you. I want you to know of this situation and my involvement

In addition to spending time with my family, one of my passions outside dentistry is hunting. I've been a life-long hunter since I was a child growing up in North Dakota. I don't often talk about hunting with my patients because it can be a divisive and emotionally charged topic. I understand and respect that not everyone shares the same views on hunting.

In early July, I was in Zimbabwe on a bow hunting trip for big game. 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 US about this situation, but will assist them in any inquiries they may have.

Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion. That was never my intention.

The media interest in this matter — along with a substantial number of comments and calls from people who are angered by this situation and by the practice of hunting in general — has disrupted our business and our ability to see our patients. For that disruption, I apologize profoundly for this inconvenience and promise you that we will do our best to resume normal operations as soon as possible. We are working to have patients with immediate needs referred to other dentists and will keep you informed of any additional developments.

On behalf of all of us at River Bluff Dental, thank you for your support.

Sincerely,

Walter J. Palmer, DDS

River Bluff Dental

Palmer, whose practice offers general and cosmetic dentistry, is an active big-game hunter, with many kills to his name, some of them registered with hunting clubs.

On Wednesday, demonstrators staged a protest outside Palmer's office with some holding signs including one that said: "Let the hunter be hunted!"

Others have left stuffed animals outside the dental office and signs were also taped on Palmer's office door. 

Related: An Iconic Lion Named Cecil Was Skinned and Decapitated by Hunters in Zimbabwe

Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, a hunting guide and a farm owner appeared in court Wednesday on allegations they helped Palmer kill the lion. 

Theo Bronkhorst, a professional hunter with Bushman Safaris, along with owner of the land that borders the park, Honest Trymore Ndlovu, have been accused of using bait to lure the lion out of a protected zone, a practice deemed unethical by the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe, of which Bronkhorst is a member. The association has since revoked his license.

"Ethics are certainly against baiting. Animals are supposed to be given a chance of a fair chase," Emmanuel Fundira, the association's president, said. "In fact, it was not a hunt at all. The animal was baited, and that is not how we do it. It is not allowed."

The Zimbabwean Parks & Wildlife Authority said: "Both the professional hunter and land owner had no permit or quota to justify the offtake of the lion and therefore are liable for the illegal hunt." The men face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

US Representative Betty McCollum, a Minnesota Democrat also called for an investigation into Palmer in the US. In a statement late Tuesday, the congresswoman called for the US Attorney's Office and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to see whether any American laws were violated. Newt Gringrich, the former speaker of the US House of Representatives, also tweeted that Palmer should be imprisoned.

Related: The Illicit Wildlife and Resource Trade Is Financing Militias and Terrorists

The US Fish and Wildlife Service responded by saying it was "deeply concerned" by the reports and said it is ready to assist Zimbabwe in its investigation of the American dentist's killing of the protected lion.

It's also possible Palmer could face an investigation into the status of his dental license if someone complains that his conduct was unbecoming of his profession.

During the nighttime hunt, the men tied a dead animal to their car to lure the lion out of a national park, said Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force. 

Rodrigues previously told VICE News that the bow and arrow didn't immediately kill 13-year-old Cecil. The lion was tracked for an additional 40 hours, he said, and then finished off with a gun before being beheaded and skinned.

He said that Cecil "was an icon," and called his death "a total loss."

"The saddest part of all is that now that Cecil is dead, the next lion in the hierarchy, Jericho will most likely kill all Cecil's cubs," he added.

Follow Charlotte Meredith on Twitter: @CHMeredith

The Associated Press contributed to this report