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BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – An avid Minnesota hunter accused of illegally killing a protected lion in Zimbabwe has a federal felony on his record related to shooting a black bear in Wisconsin, according to federal court records.
Walter Palmer, 55, of the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie, pleaded guilty in 2008 to making false statements to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about a black bear he fatally shot in western Wisconsin. Palmer had a permit to hunt but shot the animal outside the authorized zone in 2006, then tried to pass it off as being killed elsewhere, according to court documents.
He was given one year probation and fined nearly $3,000.
Palmer was identified Tuesday by the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe and police as the American hunter facing poaching charges for the crossbow killing of Cecil, a well-known and protected lion whose death has outraged animal conservationists and others.
Local authorities allege the lion was lured from a protected area and killed in early July, and Zimbabwean conservationists said the American allegedly paid $50,000 to kill the lion. Two Zimbabwean men are scheduled to appear in court for their role in the hunt.
Palmer, a dentist, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune he was ready to dispute the allegations, saying "some things are being misreported." He said he was preparing to say more later Tuesday.
Several attempts by The Associated Press to reach Palmer, including phone calls to and stopping by his home and dental office in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington, were unsuccessful Tuesday. Doug Kelley, a former U.S. attorney and Palmer's attorney in the Wisconsin bear case, was unavailable for immediate comment Tuesday morning, according to his assistant.
Palmer has several hunts on record with the Pope and Young Club, where archers register big game taken in North America for posterity, according to the club's director of records, Glenn Hisey.
Hisey said he didn't have immediate access to records showing the types and number of animals killed by Palmer during hunts, but noted that any club records involve legal hunts "taken under our rules of fair chase." African game wouldn't be eligible.
Hisey, who said he doesn't have a personal rapport with Palme, said he alerted the group's board that Palmer's ethics were being called into question and his domestic records could be jeopardized if he's found to have done something illegal abroad.
A Facebook page for Palmer's Minnesota dental practice was taken offline Tuesday after users flooded it with comments condemning Palmer's involvement in the hunt. Hundreds of similar comments inundated a page for his dental practice on review platform Yelp, which prior to Tuesday had only three comments.
A state database of Minnesota dentist licensure lists the status of Palmer's registration as active, but "not practicing in state."
Associated Press writer Hannah Cushman contributed to this report from Chicago. Brian Bakst reported from St. Paul, Minnesota.