Once Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer had been fingered for killing a Zimbabwean lion, it was inevitable that Louisiana dentist James Palmer would get death threats.
Same goes for Wisconsin dentist Mathew Palmer.
The first names and states may be different, but who’s going to notice that in a fit of righteous indignation?
As for an 80-year-old insurance salesman who actually is named Walter Palmer, he had no chance of escaping obloquy and harassment. He lives just a few miles away from his namesake big-game hunter in Minnesota, and has also been on African expeditions, albeit armed with a camera.
It has been widely reported, meanwhile, that the other Walter Palmer is in hiding. You’d have to be an idiot to think you could find him practicing dentistry under his own surname.
And you’d need to have a screw loose to regard homicide as a justified response to animal cruelty.
It would be a slur to suggest that the tormentors of the various Palmers represent more than a minuscule segment of humanity, but the evidence does suggest we will not run out of idiots any time soon.
James Palmer reports that some of these charming souls wish harm to his children, while his wife goes to the trouble of replying to explain they have the wrong guy. Most of them then apologize, she says. Evidently they think threats would have been OK if they had the right guy. Well, we already knew they were idiots.
The 160,000 people who have signed a petition asking the White House to approve an extradition request for Walter Palmer may not all be idiots, but they sure don’t know much about Zimbabwe. The idea that Robert Mugabe’s brutal and corrupt government could be morally outraged over the death of a lion is absurd. The prisons in Zimbabwe, even by African standards, are hell holes, and no American government should countenance exposing one of its citizens to what passes for a justice system there.
Zimbabwe is one of several African countries where trophy hunting is legal. Indeed, it makes a significant contribution to what is left of the national economy after Mugabe’s long maladministration. Americans and other wealthy visitors out to pot wild animals are a common sight.
Sure, it is a long time since big-game hunting was generally regarded as a manly pursuit, and Teddy Roosevelt might have a hard time getting elected these days. Walter Palmer’s fondness for the slaughter of unoffending and depleted species is impossible to defend.
Still, nobody would have heard of him if he had shot just another lion. His offense was to shoot one that had been given a name and collared as part of a conservation project run by England’s Oxford University. Walter Palmer became the ugly American who killed Cecil, who was portrayed in the press as universally loved in Zimbabwe, although it appears that few of the local inhabitants had heard of him.
Cecil was named after Cecil Rhodes, the English imperialist who endowed the Oxford scholarships and gave his name to the former countries of Northern and Southern Rhodesia. The latter became Zimbabwe after the white minority government was ousted in 1980, and Mugabe commenced running the place into the ground.
Cecil was thus an odd choice of name in Zimbabwe, and it might seem even odder that the wildlife conservation study is partially underwritten by safari companies. Walter Palmer must have figured he could kill a lion and go back to fixing teeth without a peep from anyone.
He has said he did not realize that his guides had illegally lured Cecil from his sanctuary in the Hwange national park. When Cecil did emerge, he found Walter Palmer lurking with his bow.
But the arrow only wounded Cecil, so that Walter Palmer was obliged to track him down and dispatch him with a rifle two days later. The story was no less disgusting because Walter Palmer claimed he figured he’d just shot any old lion.
The shot was heard around the world, leaving Palmers throughout the United States to be confused with the one who shot the wrong lion.
James Gill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.