WATCH ABOVE: Dr. Palmer returns to work early Tuesday morning
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – The Minnesota dentist who killed Cecil the lion returned to work Tuesday after weeks away, walking silently past a swarm of media and a handful of protesters outside his small dental practice calling for him to be sent to Zimbabwe to face trial.
A security guard met Walter Palmer in the parking lot of the Bloomington clinic as he walked from a street where police had blocked off traffic, whisking him inside past a barrage of reporters shouting questions.
Palmer announced Sunday in an interview with The Associated Press – his first since the uproar broke over Cecil’s killing during a hunt in Zimbabwe’s vast Hwange National Park in July – that he would return to work, saying his patients and staff need him.
The small throng of protesters gathered outside the clinic didn’t match the furor in the days after Palmer was named as Cecil’s killer, when hundreds held vigils for the big cat with the black mane and forced River Bluff Dental to temporarily close.
Just a few protesters were on site when the dentist appeared shortly after 7 a.m. Cathy Pierce repeatedly yelled “Extradite Palmer!” as he entered the practice.
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Pierce said she drove more than an hour from her home in East Bethel to the Bloomington clinic to “fight for animals who can’t fight for themselves.”
She scoffed at Palmer’s suggestion in his interview with the AP that protesters had unfairly targeted his employees and family, in some cases threatening violence.
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“We’re not picking on his staff or his family. We’re picking on him,” she said. “We want him to know that we’re not going to forget.”
Stephanie Michaelis, a woman who lives near the clinic, walked over to argue with protesters, telling them to leave Palmer alone. She said the uproar over Cecil’s death was overblown and that people should be more concerned about abortions and threats to human life.
Among the patients Tuesday was Thomas Dressel, who said his wife was a regular but it was his first visit as a patient. Dressel said he trusted Palmer’s account of the hunt and, as a retired doctor, wanted to support a fellow medical professional.
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“I support his business. I’m sure that this has really hurt his practice,” he said.
Bloomington Police Deputy Chief Mike Hartley said police would be there as long as media were gathered. He said police don’t believe Palmer’s safety is at risk.
A group of half a dozen protesters remained on the sidewalk more than an hour after Palmer entered, holding signs calling for his extradition to Zimbabwe to face punishment. But while Palmer’s guides on the hunt have either been charged or await charges for their involvement in Cecil’s killing, the Zimbabwean government’s pursuit of the dentist has cooled off amid fears it could hamper a hunting industry that is lucrative and important for the country.
It’s been a month since Zimbabwean officials announced that police would process paperwork to extradite Palmer for participating in the hunt, but as of Monday, a police spokeswoman in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, said there were no new developments in the case.
An attorney acting on Palmer’s behalf told AP that he offered to make Palmer available to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to talk about the case several weeks ago, but he hasn’t heard back.
Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Laury Parramore said Tuesday that she has no update on the case but that an investigation continues.