BLOOMINGTON, Minn. - Several hundred people gathered to protest outside the office of dentist Walter Palmer, accused of illegally killing a beloved African lion, Cecil, on the same day two guides Palmer hired for the hunt faced charges in a Zimbabwe court.
In Bloomington, animal rights advocates who rallied the crowd called for Dr. Palmer to be extradited back to Zimbabwe to face poaching charges. Many also chanted for his practice to be shut down.
Bloomington Police brought a strong presence to manage any protests but crowds remained peaceful.
Photographer Paul Runze was one of many people in the crowd, as an avid African wildlife photographer who has embarked on at least 350 safaris, what he calls game drives, in the past five years. He encountered Cecil up close back in 2011, and captured a video of Cecil that has now gone viral across social media.
"I saw this big head pop out of the grass watched for a while. He gets up very slowly and very deliberately and walks right towards us this guy is not afraid of anything," said Runze, describing his footage.
"He got 25-30 feet from us and looked me right in the eye," he remembers.
When Runze learned of Cecil's killing, he looked back at his footage and noticed a distinctive scar on Cecil's nose and knew he had captured the magnificent lion.
"My take is whether or not was killed illegally is yet to be determined, I am out here because I think trophy hunting is just wrong," said Runze.
Artist Mark Balma, founder Azure Road Studios, also came to share his image, a giant portrait of Cecil the lion. Balma, who has painted presidential portraits was in town visiting relatives, and decided to use his talent to honor Cecil, spending the day painting a large portrait of the lion. He plans to sell the painting and give the proceeds to a conservation organization.
"There is something about the spirit of the moment and many people coming together for the same reason. Maybe this will bring more awareness to poaching, conservancy, organizations like the Wildlife Fund, for people trying to maintain and protect what we do have for future generations," said Balma.
Sarah Madison, a Minneapolis mother, brought her three year old son to the protest dressed in a lion costume. She said her son wanted to wear his Halloween costume to remember Cecil.
"Beckett wanted to be Cecil for the day. I think it's important to start the conversation early about respecting everyone, humanity, and that includes animals," said Madison.
Protestors spent two hours calling for an end to trophy hunting, even marching around the community before the crowd dispersed.
Signs read, "God help you, Dr. Palmer", "Cat Lives Matter", "Next Safari - Como Zoo?", "Is Your Head a Trophy?", "Killer", and "Extradite".
There was still no sign of Dr. Palmer at his office Wednesday, beyond his letter to patients.
Here's the full letter:
To my valued patients:
As you may have already heard, I have been in the news over the last few days for reasons that have nothing to do with my profession or the care I provide for you. I want you to know of this situation and my involvement
In addition to spending time with my family, one of my passions outside dentistry is hunting. I've been a life-long hunter since I was a child growing up in North Dakota. I don't often talk about hunting with my patients because it can be a divisive and emotionally charged topic. I understand and respect that not everyone shares the same views on hunting.
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. That was never my intention.
The media interest in this matter – along with a substantial number of comments and calls from people who are angered by this situation and by the practice of hunting in general – has disrupted our business and our ability to see our patients. For that disruption, I apologize profoundly for this inconvenience and promise you that we will do our best to resume normal operations as soon as possible. We are working to have patients with immediate needs referred to other dentists and will keep you informed of any additional developments.
On behalf of all of us at River Bluff Dental, thank you for your support.
Walter J. Palmer, DDS
River Bluff Dental
Palmer's public statement that hit many similar points as his letter to patients is doing little to stem the tide of anger that was unleashed against him on social media. Hundreds posted scathing comments on KARE 11's Facebook and Twitter pages, and a hashtag #CecilTheLion exploded with rants from celebrities and ordinary citizens from across the globe.
Two separate protests are scheduled in front of Palmer's dental practice in Bloomington Wednesday. One was set for 1 p.m., the other for 4 p.m. Hundreds have signed an online petition pledging to attend. KARE 11's Melissa Colorado did live reports Wednesday morning, showing viewers a growing memorial for Cecil, a beloved and honored animal in Zimbabwe.
Palmer maintains, through a released statement, that he is willing to help authorities but has not yet been contacted about the situation.
Meanwhile, A Zimbabwean judge has granted bail to the professional hunter arrested for helping an American tourist illegally kill a protected lion.
Defense lawyer Givemore Muvhiringi said Wednesday that professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst was released on $1,000 bail.
The lawyer representing farm owner Honest Trymore Ndlovu, who also appeared in court, said his client was not yet charged and was released from custody.
The two Zimbabweans allegedly helped Minnesota dentist Walter James Palmer lure and kill a protected lion named Cecil.
Zimbabwean prosecutors' documents accuse Bronkhorst of failing to "prevent an unlawful hunt." Court documents say Bronkhorst was supervising while his client, Palmer, shot the animal.
The court documents made no mention of Palmer as a suspect.
The two appeared at the Hwange magistrate's court, about 435 miles (700 kilometers) west of the capital Harare.