Dentist Walter James Palmer sends patients apology letter after killing Zimbabwe lion Cecil

The Minnesota dentist who killed “Cecil the Lion” in Zimbabwe wrote a letter of apology to his patients Tuesday as a media firestorm continued to grow and his online business and social profiles were assailed with threats and hate messages.

Walter James Palmer, who paid about $50,000 to hunt the lion, used bait to lure the 13-year-old black-maned big cat out of Hwange National Park in early July so he could shoot it with a bow and arrow, authorities said.

In the letter to his patients at River Bluff Dental in Bloomington, Palmer again said he did not know Cecil was a well-known lion who had been collared for a study until he had finished the hunt. He made the same claim in a statement to the media eariler Tuesday.

“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,” he said in the message, obtained by local Fox affiliate KMSP.

“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,” he wrote.

The letter repeats many lines from his Tuesday statement to the press, which was printed in The Star Tribune.

Palmer said he hired local professional guides, acquired all the necessary permits for a legal big-game hunting trip and promised to assist Zimbabwean or American authorities with any questions, should he be asked.

“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,” Palmer said. “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.”

River Bluff Dental’s official website and Facebook page have been taken down. The business’ phone line has also been disconnected.

Thousands of outraged citizens have flooded the office’s Yelp page with angry messages shaming Palmer for killing Cecil.

Charity Charamba, a spokeswoman for Zimbabwean police, told The Associated Press that the two Zimbabwean men who allegedly helped lure Cecil out of its protected area will appear in court. The police are searching for Palmer, she added.

On Tuesday, a “We the People” petition was launched on the official White House website in hopes of extraditng Palmer to Zimbabwe so he can face justice. It already has more than 66,000 signatures.

“Two of Palmer’s local accomplices are already in custody. Zimbabwe authorities now actively seeking Palmer in connection with this incident,” the petition reads in part. “We urge the Secretary Of State John Kerry and the Attorney General Loretta Lynch to fully cooperate with the Zimbabwe authorities and to extradite Walter Palmer promptly at the Zimbabwe government’s request.”