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Cecil the Lion was famous before an American dentist allegedly killed him early this month.
He was a handsome male lion, with a grand mane, who stalked the bush of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe.
The 13-year-old lion wore a tracking collar from an Oxford University tracking project. Then Cecil’s corpse was found just outside the park, where it was illegal to hunt, skinned and headless.
Cecil’s photogenic nature, his apparent interest in human visitors, and his presence in Oxford’s study, made him well known and, given the harsh economic and political situation in Zimbabwe, beloved. That, combined with his location, and the brutal treatment of his body, have sparked widespread outrage over his untimely death.
Identified as Walter James Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota, Cecil’s killer used social media to brag about all the African charismatic megafauna he had killed. Palmer paid $55,000 for the pleasure of shooting the lion with a bow (€35,000), according to the BBC. That shot didn’t kill Cecil, so his guides tracked him over night and much of the next day before dispatching him with rifle shots.
One of the problems with Palmer’s actions was that Cecil had been lured out of the protected park with bait. Another was that Palmer and his guides removed Cecil’s tracking collar.
So far, two men have been charged with poaching: Theo Bronkhorst, owner Bushman Safaris; and Honest Trymore, the owner of the Antoinette farm, the bordering property where Cecil ultimately perished. They face an Aug. 6 arraignment.
It is uncertain whether Palmer will face the same charges, though Johnny Rodrigues, head of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told the press, “They should be charged with poaching. If you’re a local and you kill an animal without a license you get between two and five years in prison.”
On the blog Trophy Hunt America, Palmer is shown holding up a leopard he had killed with a bow and crouching by a dead bighorn sheep.
The online blowback
It isn’t just Zimbabweans who are upset, or Africa-based conservationists. A cross-section of people are taking Palmer apart on Yelp by reviewing his business, River Bluff Dental, in Bloomington, Minnesota.
The top review, from “David H,” reads:
Now I had never been to this dentist before, since I moved out of state. Last night however there was a trail of dental dams, and floss, coming from my front door LURING me from the PROTECTION of where I LIVE. I followed the trail of dental goodies into the adjacent property at which point WALTER and his assistant LEO, SHOT me through (with Novocain). They then waited 40 HOURS to cut off the HEAD of a crown that didn’t take.
Free sucker at the end. 2-stars.
Another reviewer, Morton B, said, “I will recommend people to go to the nearest barber to get your tooth removed instead of Dr. Palmer.”
Jared B wrote, “If you visit this dentist for services, you are funding his sprees of killing innocent, magnificent African animals that should be protected.”
According to one commenter, George H, “Yelp is actively removing negative reviews. They removed mine which had 300+ Useful nods.”
Thanks to people responding to his killing of Cecil, Palmer’s average Yelp rating is one star, based on 1,114 reviews. Presumably most dentists in Bloomington don’t attract the number, level, and virulence of the reviews Palmer has received.
Palmer’s Google reviews remain at 4.3. However, the reviews number 2,274 so far, and the top consists of page after page of one-star indictments.
The attention Palmer has received has meant his website, riverbluffdental.com, is loading slowly, incompletely, or not at all. Most attempts have returned a 503 error, indicating either the server is overwhelmed or is possibly experiencing a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, though no one has claimed such an attack so far.
In a statement, Palmer defended his actions, but said he “deeply regret[s]” that his actions lead to the death of “this lion.”
Photo via Trophy Hunt America
Curt Hopkins has over two decades of experience as a journalist, editorial strategist, and social media manager. His work has been published by Ars Technica, Reuters, Los Angeles Times, and San Francisco Chronicle. He is the also founding director of the Committee to Protect Bloggers, the first organization devoted to global free speech rights for bloggers