Janesville dentist mistaken for killer of lion

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Elliot Hughes | August 3, 2015

JANESVILLE -- Janesville dentist Mathew Palmer has never been to Africa.

He is not a hunter, and he has never even liked the idea of killing “big game” for sport.

But as the Internet rages about the death of a beloved lion in Zimbabwe at the hands of a Minnesota dentist, the backlash has spilled over onto Mathew Palmer, who shares his last name and profession with the man at the center of the vitriol.

Of all the weird things that have happened to Mathew Palmer in his life, “being confused for a lion killer in Africa and being harassed in the middle of the night probably tops the list,” he said.

Earlier this week, Walter Palmer, a dentist from the Minneapolis area, became Public Enemy No. 1 on the Internet after reports surfaced that he lured Cecil the lion, a tourist attraction at Hwange National Park, off his sanctuary and shot the animal with an arrow.

Walter Palmer has since gone into hiding after Internet vigilantes targeted him and his dentistry practice, according to various news reports. Zimbabwean officials called for Walter Palmer's extradition Friday.

Since then, mistaken identity has pushed Mathew Palmer, 40, into the crosshairs.

He said he's received about 30 angry phone calls and two sleepless nights since Tuesday night. Callers obtained the dentistry's on-call number from the Internet, which went straight to his cellphone.

Mathew Palmer's been yelled at, sworn at and threatened by callers from as far away as Florida, he said. Someone even signed him up for for a computer-automated messaging service that called him every hour to recite cat facts.

Mathew Palmer has since changed his number and taken down any on-call number on the dentistry's website or social media pages. The dentistry's Facebook page also includes a statement telling harassers this is not the dentist they're looking for.

He said the calls haven't disrupted his practice, it's just made things more interesting at home. He's only been able to convince one caller she had the wrong guy.

“She was very apologetic,” he said.

Out of caution, he notified police about one caller that was particularly heated, but in general he doesn't feel unsafe.

"I think I'm probably going to get a lot of stuffed animals for Christmas and birthdays in the future," he said.

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