People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is calling for a Minnesota dentist accused of hunting a protected lion in Zimbabwe to be "extradited, charged and, preferably, hanged."
The graphic statement came as multiple reports surfaced that Walter Palmer allegedly paid $50,000 to shoot the large cat with a crossbow earlier this month. Palmer, described as an avid hunter, said he did not know that the lion, famously known in the African country as Cecil, was protected.
"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," Palmer, a dentist in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, said in a statement Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.
As the situation unfolded, PETA issued a blunt statement, calling hunting "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," the statement said. "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.
PETA's response was just one in an overwhelming wave of online criticism laced with profanity and threats of violence against Palmer.
“As far as I understand, Walter believes that he might have shot that lion that has been referred to as Cecil,” a spokesman for Palmer told the Guardian newspaper. “What he’ll tell you is that he had the proper legal permits and he had hired several professional guides, so he’s not denying that he may be the person who shot this lion."
Zimbabwean officials allege that Palmer and two Zimbabwean men — one farmer and one professional hunter — tied a dead animal to their car to lure Cecil out of the national park, where he was protected from being hunted.
Dental practice belonging to controversial big game hunter Walter Palmer completely locked down. All shades drawn. pic.twitter.com/opvzJp8ea9— Paul Blume (@PaulBlume_FOX9) July 28, 2015
The farmer and hunter have been arrested, but Zimbabwean officials are still searching for Palmer, whose current whereabouts are unknown.
The Associated Press reported that Palmer paid up to $50,000 to hunt the animal, although it was not immediately clear who exactly he paid the amount to. Officials in the African country say that it was illegal because the farm owner hadn't obtained a hunting permit.
The men allegedly tried to rip off the animal's collar, which contained a tracking device, but there were unable to remove it. The AP reported that the men later skinned and beheaded the large cat.
If convicted, the two men already in custody could face up to 15 years in prison. The possible penalties for Palmer are unclear. In a statement issued to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Palmer said he has not been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or the U.S. but "will assist them" if or when they do.
"Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion," Palmer said.
In a statement posted on Facebook Tuesday, the Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association said an investigation is still ongoing.
ZPHGA would like to make the following statement, regarding the ongoing investigation of the hunt outside Hwange that...Posted by Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association on Thursday, July 23, 2015
The AP reported according to court records that Palmer pleaded guilty to lying to authorities about where he killed a black bear in Wisconsin — shooting it outside of where he had a permit to hunt, then claiming it was killed elsewhere.
See footage of Cecil the lion roaming the African plains below:
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