Dentist who killed lion hounded online

Resident Autumn Fuller, 10, leaving a stuffed animal in the doorway of Dr Walter Palmer's dental office near Minneapolis on Wednesday. Dr Palmer became a villain at the centre of a virtual firestorm over the ethics of big-game trophy hunting after he
Resident Autumn Fuller, 10, leaving a stuffed animal in the doorway of Dr Walter Palmer's dental office near Minneapolis on Wednesday. Dr Palmer became a villain at the centre of a virtual firestorm over the ethics of big-game trophy hunting after he said he had killed Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe.PHOTO: REUTERS

MINNEAPOLIS • An American dentist who admitted that he killed a well-known lion this month in Zimbabwe and had planned to mount the head, kept his office closed on Wednesday as the furore online has turned vitriolic and, at times, threatening.

Dr Walter Palmer's neatly groomed property near Minneapolis, adjacent to a pre-school, has turned from a dentist's office to a memorial for the lion, called Cecil, with red roses and more than a dozen stuffed animals laid outside the locked front door.

There was no answer to repeated knocks and doorbell rings at his large, stucco house in an affluent, wooded neighbourhood. His neighbours would not talk.

In the hours after Dr Palmer said he had killed the lion under the impression that the hunt was legal and undertaken with the proper permits, he went from a dentist and long-time hunting enthusiast to the villain at the centre of a virtual firestorm over the ethics of big-game trophy hunting.

He apologised in a statement: "I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practise responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion."

Trophy hunting, undertaken by wealthy hunters who pay tens of thousands of dollars for licences to kill protected animals for trophies and sport, has long been a subject of global debate.

Hunting advocates and some conservationists argue that, if done responsibly, the selling of expensive licences to big-game hunters can help pay for efforts to protect endangered species.

When it was reported that a Texas man paid US$350,000 (S$478,000) to hunt and kill a black rhinoceros in Namibia this year, the debate remained only among activists.

But the death of Cecil, a 13-year-old lion who wandered out of its sanctuary in a national park in Zimbabwe this month, struck a chord with social media users.

As more details around the killing emerged, activists used search engines to find Dr Palmer's contact information, and social media to share information about his business and his family, stirring a fever pitch of anger strong enough to effectively dismantle his digital life.

Angry people sent a surge of traffic to Dr Palmer's website, which was taken offline. Vitriolic reviews flooded his Yelp page - "Murderer", one reviewer wrote.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2015, with the headline 'Dentist who killed lion hounded online'. Print Edition | Subscribe