U.S. officials seeking Minnesota dentist in Cecil the lion investigation

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed Thursday that its officials are trying to get in contact with Bloomington, Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer as they investigate the killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating the circumstances surrounding the killing of Cecil the lion. That investigation will take us wherever the facts lead,” said Edward Grace, Deputy Chief of Law Enforcement of the agency. “At this point in time, however, multiple efforts to contact Dr. Walter Palmer have been unsuccessful. We ask that Dr. Palmer or his representative contact us immediately.”

Palmer is the target of international outrage after he reportedly paid more than $50,000 to kill the lion at Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. One aspect of the big-game hunt that will likely get close scrutiny is whether Palmer brought a trophy from his lion hunt back home to Minnesota, and did he have the proper import permits to do so.

Palmer has said he relied on his paid, licensed guides in what he thought was a fully legal hunt. Palmer also said he was open to speaking with authorities as part of a now two-continent investigation.

Palmer's Bloomington, Minn. dental practice, River Bluff Dental, has been closed since Tuesday. A staff member told Fox 9 it would likely be closed for the remainder of the week, and its website and Facebook presence has been removed. Meanwhile, people from all over the country have flooded his practice's Yelp page to compose nasty reviews and various hate messages.

No police protection

The Eden Prairie Police Department issued statement Thursday regarding the increased police presence on the neighborhood of Dr. Walter Palmer.

“Because of the increased traffic in the neighborhood of Walter Palmer's residence, the Eden Prairie Police Department is monitoring the neighborhood to ensure the safety and security of the residents and their property,” the department said. “The Eden Prairie Police Department is not providing personal protection for Mr. Palmer.”

Statement to media

“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 U.S. 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.”

READ THIS NEXT – Dr. Palmer’s letter to patients

What happened

Cecil was baited at night with a dead animal tied to a car and lured away from a national park, then shot with a bow and arrow. He was reportedly found about 40 hours later and was shot with a gun, beheaded and skinned. Prosecutor Namatirai Ngwasha said researchers noticed Cecil's GPS collar had become uncharacteristically stationary and his carcass was found days later.

Professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst and landowner Honest Trymore Ndlovu each face felony poaching charges. Zimbabwe wildlife officials said Palmer has also been accused of poaching.

BACKSTORY - Minnesota dentist believed Zimbabwe lion killing was legal

Organizers admitted the hunt was poorly planned, and Bronkhorst reported the "mistake" to the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority the next day. Authorities also stated "the lion trophy has also been confiscated."

"Ongoing investigations to date, suggest that the killing of the lion was illegal since the land owner was not allocated a lion on his hunting quota for 2015. Therefore, all persons implicated in this case are due to appear in court facing poaching charges," Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority said in a statement. 

"In this case, 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 statement continues.