Hundreds of protesters gathered outside U.S. dentist Walter Palmer’s office Wednesday, calling for his head to be mounted on a wall after the longtime trophy hunter killed a beloved African lion with a bow and arrow, CNN reports.
Palmer has gone underground and his River Bluffs, Minnesota, dental practice is closed while a growing memorial of stuffed animals line the front door.
A sign on Palmer’s office door says “rot in hell.” Other signs read, “WE ARE CECIL” and “#CatLivesMatter,” NewYorkTimes reports.
Cecil is the name of a lion that wildlife authorities say was lured out of an animal sanctuary in Zimbabwe for Palmer to shoot with a crossbow. It took 40 hours for Cecil to die. Hunters finally tracked him down and shot him with a gun before skinning and beheading him.
CNN reports that hunters tried to destroy the GPS collar Cecil was wearing as part of research tracking by an Oxford University conservation group.
Cecil was a celebrity at Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, according to TheMirror.
The 13-year-old lion was known for his laid-back attitude towards humans, often hanging out near main roads in the park. Unfazed by cameras, Cecil provided tourists with great photos to take home.
Palmer paid around $54,000 to hunt the lion, NewYorkTimes reports. He has since apologized for killing Cecil.
“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,” Palmer said in a statement prepared by crisis management expert Jon Austin. “I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt.”
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Palmer has become a a villain at the center of a firestorm over the ethics of big game trophy hunting, according to NYTimes.
A growing Facebook page with 7,300 members calls for Palmer to be publicly shamed: “Shame Lion Killer Dr Walter Palmer and River Bluff Dental,” CNN reports.
Palmer has joined “an ever expanding group of people who have become targets of Internet vigilantism, facing a seemingly endless shaming until the next issue comes along,” NYTimes reports.
Palmer’s website has been taken offline due to angry traffic. Bad reviews flooded his Yelp page and his face has been removed from industry websites.
The controversial sport of trophy hunting has pros and cons. Lion numbers are in decline across Africa, but conservationists say trophy hunting is only partly responsible for the losses, TheGuardian reports.
South Africa is the world center of lion hunting, according to TheGuardian. Hunters legally kill around 260 lions a year. Nearly all the lions killed for sport in South Africa are bred in captivity in a practice known as canned hunting. In Central and West Africa lion populations are in steep decline or extinct.
“Lions are grossly over-hunted in Zimbabwe concessions, lured out of national parks and there is corruption. Quotas are exceeded. It is highly unsustainable,” said a spokesman for Lion Aid.
But many conservationists say there would be no lions at all it wasn’t for trophy hunting, TheGuardian reports.
When a Texas man reportedly paid $350,000 to hunt and kill a black rhinoceros in Namibia this year, the furor remained mostly within that community, according to NYTimes.
Authorities believe the hunt was “illegal,” NPR reported. There was no license, no permit for the area where the lion was killed, and the people who lured the animal didn’t have a permit, Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told NPR’s Audie Cornish.
Two Zimbabweans — a professional hunter and a farm owner — appeared in court Wednesday on poaching charges, accused of helping Palmer. Zimbabwean officials said Palmer is also wanted on poaching charges.
When an educated, tech-savvy crowd jumps on an issue that involves public outrage, it can get very personal, said Erin Flior, who specializes in crisis management at the P.R. firm Levick. Some clients have had to move or consider changing their names, Flior told NYTimes.
“It’s a mystery to us why this has gone viral, but we hope it leads to support for WildCRU (Wildlife Conservation Research Uni),” said Dawn Burnham of Oxford University in an interview with TheMirror. “Cecil was one of our collared animals and was very important to us. He was obviously a fine animal, but his situation is not unique. There are many lions lost to both poachers and hunters. Although this is tragic, it is an opportunity for us now to raise awareness so people realise what is happening.”
Check out this Euronews video of protesters outside Palmer’s office.