Christie Blatchford: His name was Cecil, Dr. Palmer

At first, we could see just three or four lions, sleeping in the grasses of the Serengeti Plain, by a tree.

It was enough for us: this was last February, we were tourists in one of those pop-top Land Rovers and we would have been happy with one lion. We were beside ourselves with three or four. Even I, who had a huge crush on a fellow traveller who was in another Land Rover just behind us, stopped taking surreptitious pictures of him and swung my camera to the lions.

One tree over was a herd of elephants, including an old boy who, though incontinent (our guide pointed out how the inside of his legs were wet) and roughed up (his ears were torn), was still full of (apologies to Jerry Bance) piss and vinegar, and he was still in charge.

Pretty soon, the old boy had had enough.

He trumpeted, did a bit of a faux-charge and, suddenly, boom, the grasses were alive with lions — maybe 15 or 16 of them, babies, mothers and fathers, were  up and moving.

They didn’t move far, merely to another tree in the opposite direction, whereupon they collapsed in cat heaps and became invisible once again.

It was completely magnificent.

(Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via AP) (Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via AP) Demonstrators gather outside the dental practice of , who returned to his practice, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, in Bloomington, Minn.

The entire safari in Tanzania was the same, getting to see an almost ludicrous number of animals as they occur naturally, in their own hoods as it were, with the human beings the only ones whose movements were controlled.

Probably everyone had a favourite species. My crush loved giraffes. I loved the pumbaas (it’s the Swahili name for warthogs, made familiar by the Lion King character of the same name), because they seemed to be always fast-walking in high heels.

But we all loved the lions and elephants. I’m not sure I saw them once without weeping (though I confess I wept particularly at the sight of that one old boy’s ass, which so looked like my own).

Is it because anyone who has ever had a cat recognizes the same tics and play in the big boys? Is it because elephants have such stature and dignity, and that when the last of their six sets of teeth come in and are worn down, they know it’s time and simply mosey on down to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area or some such place and starve to death? Is it because they’re so like us, and are even right or left-tusked (one is always dominant and thus noticeably bigger)?

I mention all this because Tuesday, Walter Palmer, the dentist from Eden Prairie, Minn. (it’s an affluent suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul), went back to work.

Paula French via APPaula French via APAn image of Cecil taken from a 2012 video shot by Paula French.

He’s the fellow who on or about July 1 killed Cecil the lion — a 13-year-old lion, famous for his fancy black-fringed mane and beloved by tourists and Oxford University scientists who had tagged him for an ongoing study of lions — in this summer.

When Cecil was killed, people around the world went nuts in the way that they do now: Threats were made; social media was thick with outrage; there were demands for Palmer’s head. Though refusing to acknowledge he was in hiding, he admitted he had made himself scarce.

Now I loathe the modern lynch mob, and hope Palmer is able, now that the cameras and a few protesters outside his office have had a go, to continue earning a living. (Of course, I also hope he is cursed by patients with profound decay and halitosis, and perhaps a biter or two.)

That said, just before his return to work, with lawyer Joe Friedberg at his side, Palmer gave an interview to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and The Associated Press, and boy, is it revealing.

It was one of those the-rules-are-very-clear interviews, with the reporters excruciatingly polite in their questions, the lawyer answering some of them, and Palmer continually exerting control (I can’t help but think he would have liked to use a little gas on the reporters first, to mellow them out) and mostly refusing to get terribly specific.

“That’s enough detail about my previous hunts,” he said once.

And, “That’s as much detail as I’m going to discuss on that, OK?”

And, when one of the reporters pressed him on how many times he’d been to Zimbabwe, Palmer said first, “I don’t right (know) offhand”, and then, “Less than a dozen,” and then, when the other reporter jumped in to snipe, bless him, “Speaking of couched words, ‘several’ is a wonderful word we like to use in the business,” he finally admitted to “four.”

The paper ran a full transcript of the interview, and it makes clear that Palmer is a chilly customer, hardly riven with regret and that he’s sticking to his story that the hunt was perfectly legal and OK’ed, and that Cecil, wounded, wasn’t left to suffer for 40 hours before being “dispatched,” as Palmer once described it, or “finished” the next day, as he said another time.

But the most galling thing he said, and he’s said this sort of thing before, was this: “Obviously, if I’d known this lion had a name and was that important to the country, or a study, obviously, I wouldn’t have taken it.”

It was the fifth time he used that word — taken — to describe the killing of the lion. It’s such an odd word. It suggests that the lion was there for the taking, for his taking in particular, that he was fair game.

I’m not rabidly against guns. I’d like to learn how to handle one myself. I get target shooting. I even get killing animals for food or fur. What I don’t get is killing them for sport, and what sort of fun is it anyway, when you don’t do the tracking yourself and have no use for the animal but as a trophy?

Walt Palmer kills only animals without names. Then let them in Africa and everywhere else have names. Ils sont tous Cecil.

About Christie Blatchford