Walter Palmer, the Eden Prairie dentist who found himself at the center of a global firestorm in July after the killing of a beloved lion in Zimbabwe, broke his silence Sunday about Cecil the lion and the ensuing controversy in an interview with the Star Tribune and the Associated Press. Read the full transcript of the conversation below.
Participants: Walter Palmer; Paul Walsh, Star Tribune; Brian Bakst, the Associated Press; and Joe Friedberg, an attorney who is consulting with Palmer on a pro bono basis.
Paul Walsh: What has life been like for you in the six weeks now, I guess, since the London Telegraph broke that story and how do things look for you professionally going forward?
Walter Palmer: Well, I’ve been out of the public eye and I’ve been seeing family and friends. I believe that there were some safety issues early on for my daughter and my wife. Paul, that’s really two questions. ...
Palmer: ... my professional life.
Palmer: I have a lot of staff members at River Bluff Dental. I’m a little heartbroken at the disruption in their lives. And I’m a health professional. I need to get back to treating my patients. My staff and my patients support me and they want me back. That’s why I’m back. I’ll be coming back this week.
Walsh: This week? Do you have a firm date? Tuesday, or …
Walsh: And at the same location?
Palmer: That’s where I practice, yes.
Brian Bakst: You said you’ve been visiting family and friends and kind of staying out of the public eye. Can you give us a sense of what you’ve been up to in those six weeks?
Palmer: No. Just normal day off, for example, I, uh. It’s a good question. Usually, I’m really busy. I just haven’t been that busy.
Walsh: There are other media, not myself, and I don’t think the AP, characterized this time as being in hiding or trying to elude, you know those kinds of more highly charged words. It sounds like that’s not really what was going on here.
Palmer: Well, I’ve been out of the public eye. That doesn’t I mean I’ve been hiding. I’ve been among people, family and friends. The location is really not that important and I really wouldn’t say. But I haven’t been in hiding.
Walsh: As soon as one outlet, and you know how this goes, uses the phrase and then it takes on a life of its own, people borrow material. I’m glad we got that part of it clear. You just weren’t saying “hey, here I am and I’m going over here, etc.”
Bakst: Certainly there’s been a lot of confusion about what happened over there on that specific hunt. Can you give us your version of how things transpired?
Palmer: I’m not going to talk about the details, but a lot of what Paul just said, news has been recycled.
Joe Friedberg: Look, as I understand this, he contracted with people who are lawfully allowed to provide services for a hunt in Zimbabwe. All kinds of papers and permits had to be obtained. As far as Walter knows, all of those were obtained and we have no reason to believe at this point that they weren’t. Everything was done properly. This was a legal hunt for a lion in Zimbabwe and because of the professionalism of the people that he had to help him, a lion was taken, and, we believe, in an area where he could be taken and in a manner in which he could be taken.
Bakst: Could you help us understand what part of the accounts that have been out there may be inaccurate or may not, in your words, may have been recycled?
Friedberg: Why don’t you ask a couple of questions about things specifically?
Bakst: Sure, I mean, first of all, were you the one who fired the arrow that first wounded the lion?
Palmer: The lion was not taken with a gun. It was not 40 hours later. It was followed up the next day and taken with a bow and arrow.
Walsh: So, wounded once with a bow and arrow. Some period of time passed, far less than 40 hours?
Walsh: And then the lion was finished with a bow and arrow?
Palmer: It was tracked and taken, dispatched the next day.
Friedberg: With a bow and arrow.
Palmer: With a bow and arrow.
Walsh: OK, and when you came upon the lion the second time, or before ultimately taking it …
Palmer: That’s as much detail as I’m going to discuss on that, OK?
Walsh: All right.
Bakst: Was it taken outside the park boundaries? Was that part accurate?
Palmer: It was taken outside of the park.
Bakst: And I believe in your initial statement, the day after this whole thing erupted, you said that you didn’t believe the lion, you didn’t know the lion to have been part of a research project, to be collared.
Palmer: That is absolutely correct.
Bakst: That’s something you can’t see from the distance at which you would have fired? I mean, I’m not familiar with hunting of this type.
Friedberg: First of all, many, many lions in that park are collared. Second of all, you can see the black mane here and the collar was not see-able.
Palmer: In the time of day I shot that lion, the professional out there and I could not see a collar, and Joe has something to say about the legality of a collared lion, too.
Friedberg: Yeah, there’s nothing wrong, it’s perfectly legal to shoot a collared lion.
Walsh: Yeah, just like Minnesota, it’s perfectly legal to shoot a collared bear.
Walsh: This might be getting ahead of the game, but Zimbabwe authorities are on the record as saying they want an extradition. They want you to return to Zimbabwe. I know they haven’t put in the request yet.
Friedberg: I don’t believe that officials that have the power to do that have said that.
Walsh: OK. If a request comes, either just like, "please come," or, "here’s the document compelling you to come," is that a trip that you’re willing to make?
Friedberg: That’s when he’ll need a lawyer.
Friedberg: And would receive the proper advice as to what to do. But again, he and I, after a little bit of looking, have a lot of respect for the laws in Zimbabwe in relation to hunting, and we have no reason at this point to believe that’s going to happen.
Bakst: Will you go back to Africa, or even back to Zimbabwe, or have you been spooked by this whole affair?
Palmer: I don’t know about the future, Brian. But I can say what Joe said, Zimbabwe has been a wonderful country for me to hunt in and I’ve always followed the laws for the country I’m in.
Bakst: How many times had you previously been there, do you know?
Palmer: I don’t right offhand.
Bakst: A dozen? Less than that?
Palmer: Less than a dozen.
Walsh: Speaking of couched words, several is a wonderful word we like to use in the business.
Walsh: Yeah, four or so, ok.
Bakst: Was this the first time that you had taken an animal in the country?
Palmer: That’s enough detail about my previous hunts. Brian, I don’t want to go into every previous hunt I’ve been in, OK. It’s done. Did you want to say something about that?
Friedberg: Well just, one of the things is there’s dozens and dozens of photos, including photos of Walt hunting. The ones that have been characterized as Walt with Cecil are inaccurate.
Walsh: How much do you think the public’s reaction to this whole shebang has to do with a degree of disdain for trophy hunting in and of itself and that you’re a successful professional who lives in a well-to-do suburb.
Friedberg: It would be kind of hard to quantify that. I mean, those were issues …
Walsh: Right. But he knows what he feels. Has that crossed your mind, that this is because it’s trophy hunting and this is because I’m an accomplished professional who earned your way up to a nice neighborhood? Has that crossed your mind at all?
Palmer: It hasn’t crossed my mind. I don’t have a level of dislike for any person or special-interest group, so I can’t relate to that and it has not crossed my mind.
Bakst: When did you get the sense that it was going to become as big as it has?
Palmer: Brian, I never got that sense.
Bakst: But obviously at some point you decided that you needed to keep a truly low profile because this thing had blown up.
Palmer: I didn’t really know until I talked to Joe that day that it was being blown up …
Walsh: With the London newspaper report?
Bakst: You’ve expressed some regret over the way this transpired. Is your regret about taking this lion or being kind of caught up in this whole swirl?
Palmer: I made an initial statement on that and I’m going to stay true to that, OK? Obviously, if I’d have known this lion had a name and was that important to the country, or a study, obviously, I wouldn’t have taken it.
Walsh: Do you know, I’ll take a stab at this ...
Palmer: Nobody in our hunting party knew before or after the name of this lion.
Bakst: One other point of fact that I hope you can clear up whether that’s true or not, that the number that has been out there as attached to the price of the hunt, $50,000, is that accurate?
Bakst: Is it less than that?
Palmer: Not saying.
Bakst: But the $50,000 is not accurate?
Palmer: No. There’s many inaccuracies as I’ve pointed out, Brian, and some of these I’m not ready to talk about right now. OK? Not right now.
Bakst: Can I just, one more point on the instrument used. It’s been described as a compound, crossbow. What’s the proper vernacular? What did you use?
Bakst: What kind of bow?
Friedberg: It’s not a crossbow.
Palmer: Compound bow.
Walsh: Right. Good.
Bakst: Thank you.
Bakst: Is there anything else you just wanted to say about how this has affected your family and the amount of attention, the amount of vitriol that has sprung forward on this?
Palmer: It’s been especially hard on my wife and daughter. They’ve been threatened. In the media, as well, and the social media, and again, Brian, I don’t understand that level of humanity, to come after people not involved at all.
Friedberg: You’re dealing with people here who claim they’d like to see Walter dead, OK?
Walsh: Yeah, PETA.
Friedberg: These are the same people that I would assume opposed the death penalty for killing a human being.
Bakst: You’ve taken the death threats seriously? I mean, even online people have keyboard courage where they anonymously vent stuff, but you’ve taken it to heart? You feel like your personal safety was at risk?
Palmer: I was concerned about my daughter and my wife. Joe and I have talked about it, and I’ve taken precautions for safety. One reason why I feel safe is because of the special care that Bloomington police and Eden Prairie police have provided for my staff, office and home. I’m not concerned about safety for that reason.
Bakst: And when you reenter practice, are you expecting that there’s going to be some days of …
Palmer: Brian, it’s like you. We don’t really have an idea. That’s why you’re asking the questions. We just don’t know.
Bakst: Is there anything else we didn’t ask about that you felt is particularly important to put out there or clear up that’s been …
Palmer: I hope I’ve been a help, cleared some things. I want to thank you guys. When there’s more, can we let you know? Would that be OK?