Minnesota dentist who killed beloved lion returns to work

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BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) -- 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 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.

READ MORE: US dentist who killed Cecil the lion set to return to work

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.

Photos from the international outcry following Cecil's death:

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Cecil, Zimbabwe Lion killed by Minnesota dentist
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Minnesota dentist who killed beloved lion returns to work
In this undated photo provided by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Cecil the lion rests in Hwange National Park, in Hwange, Zimbabwe. Two Zimbabweans arrested for illegally hunting a lion appeared in court Wednesday, July 29, 2015. The head of Zimbabwe’s safari association said the killing was unethical and that it couldn’t even be classified as a hunt, since the lion killed by an American dentist was lured into the kill zone. (Andy Loveridge/Wildlife Conservation Research Unit via AP)
Dentist Walter Palmer, who returned to his practice, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, in Bloomington, Minn., arrives back to his office following a lunch break. Palmer, after weeks out of the public eye, was the subject of an international uproar after he was identified as the hunter who killed the famous lion Cecil, in Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
BLOOMINGTON, MINN - SEPTEMBER 8: Dentist and trophy hunter Dr. Walter Palmer (L- in black short sleeves) walks into his clinic with private security and members of the media on September 8, 2015 in Bloomington, MN. Palmer came to his clinic for the first time in over a month after killing famed lion Cecil in Zimbabwe. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MINN - SEPTEMBER 8: Dentist and trophy hunter Dr. Walter Palmer (L- in black short sleeves) walks into his clinic with private security and members of the media on September 8, 2015 in Bloomington, MN. Palmer came to his clinic for the first time in over a month after killing famed lion Cecil in Zimbabwe. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MINN - SEPTEMBER 8: Protester Cathy Pierce (C) and other protesters voice their anger after Dr. Walter Palmer walks into his clinic on September 8, 2015 in Bloomington, MN. Palmer came to his clinic for the first time in over a month after killing famed lion Cecil in Zimbabwe. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
Demonstrators gather outside the dental practice of Walter Palmer, who returned to his practice, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, in Bloomington, Minn. Palmer, after weeks out of the public eye, was the subject of an international uproar after he was identified as the hunter who killed the famous lion Cecil, in Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 05: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) protesters hold pictures of Cecil the Lion as they stand in front of the Department of Interior building to protest against the importing of wild game killed as trophies August 5, 2015 in Washington, DC. Peta is calling on the Fish and Wildlife Service to take steps to end cruel trophy hunting by listing lions as a threatened species and banning the importation of their heads, tails, and skins into the U.S. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
In this frame grab taken from a November 2012 video made available by Paula French, a well-known, protected lion known as Cecil strolls around in Hwange National Park, in Hwange, Zimbabwe. Zimbabwean police said Tuesday, July 28, 2015 they are searching for Walter James Palmer, an American who allegedly shot Cecil with a crossbow while on a big game hunt in a killing that has outraged conservationists and others. (Paula French via AP)

Cecil the lion.

(Photo via International Animal Rescue Foundation Africa)

BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 29: Protesters call attention to the alleged poaching of Cecil the lion, in the parking lot of Dr. Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental Clinic on July 29, 2015 in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to reports, the 13-year-old lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed by Dr. Palmer, who had paid at least $50,000 for the hunt. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 29: Protesters place signs on the doors of Dr. Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental Clinic to call attention to the alleged poaching of Cecil the lion on July 29, 2015 in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to reports, the 13-year-old lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed by Dr. Palmer, who had paid at least $50,000 for the hunt. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 29: Protesters call attention to the alleged poaching of Cecil the lion in the parking lot of Dr. Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental Clinic on July 29, 2015 in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to reports, the 13-year-old lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed by Dr. Palmer, who had paid at least $50,000 for the hunt. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 29: Protesters place stuffed animals on the sign of Dr. Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental Clinic to call attention to the alleged poaching of Cecil the lion on July 29, 2015 in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to reports, the 13-year-old lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed by Dr. Palmer, who had paid at least $50,000 for the hunt. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
Stuffed animals and notes lie outside Dr. Walter James Palmer's dental office in Bloomington, Minn., Wednesday, July 29, 2015. Palmer allegedly paid $50,000 to track and kill Cecil, a protected lion, just outside Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 05: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) protesters hold pictures of Cecil the Lion as they stand in front of the Department of Interior building to protest against the importing of wild game killed as trophies August 5, 2015 in Washington, DC. Peta is calling on the Fish and Wildlife Service to take steps to end cruel trophy hunting by listing lions as a threatened species and banning the importation of their heads, tails, and skins into the U.S. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Cecil the lion from Zimbabwe that was killed by an American Dentist is projected on the Empire State Building, in the 'Projecting Change on the Empire State Building' project, made by the Oscar winning director and founder of Oceanic Preservation Society Louis Psihoyos and producer Fisher Stevens in New York on August 1, 2015. PHOTO/ KENA BETANCUR (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe inspects the guard of honour during a ceremony in Harare, Monday Aug. 10, 2015, honouring thousands of fighters who died in a 1970s Bush war against colonialism. Mugabe, in his first public comments about the popular lion named Cecil, says his compatriots failed in their responsibility to protect the lion that was killed by an American in an allegedly illegal hunt. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
Protestors gather outside Dr. Walter James Palmer's dental office in Bloomington, Minn., Wednesday, July 29, 2015. Palmer reportedly paid $50,000 to track and kill Cecil, a black-maned lion, just outside Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
Protestors gather outside Dr. Walter James Palmer's dental office in Bloomington, Minn., Wednesday, July 29, 2015. Palmer reportedly paid $50,000 to track and kill Cecil, a black-maned lion, just outside Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 29: Protesters call attention to the alleged poaching of Cecil the lion, in the parking lot of Dr. Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental Clinic on July 29, 2015 in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to reports, the 13-year-old lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed by Dr. Palmer, who had paid at least $50,000 for the hunt. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 29: Protesters call attention to the alleged poaching of Cecil the lion, in the parking lot of Dr. Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental Clinic on July 29, 2015 in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to reports, the 13-year-old lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed by Dr. Palmer, who had paid at least $50,000 for the hunt. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 29: Protesters call attention to the alleged poaching of Cecil the lion, in the parking lot of Dr. Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental Clinic on July 29, 2015 in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to reports, the 13-year-old lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed by Dr. Palmer, who had paid at least $50,000 for the hunt. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
Protestors gather outside Dr. Walter James Palmer's dental office in Bloomington, Minn., Wednesday, July 29, 2015. Palmer reportedly paid $50,000 to track and kill Cecil, a black-maned lion, just outside Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
Mark Balma works on a mural of Cecil the lion outside Dr. Walter James Palmer's dental office in Bloomington, Minn., Wednesday, July 29, 2015. Authorities allege that Palmer paid $50,000 to track and kill Cecil, a protected lion, just outside Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
Stuffed animals and notes collect outside Dr. Walter James Palmer's dental office in Bloomington, Minn., Wednesday, July 29, 2015. Palmer reportedly paid $50,000 to track and kill Cecil, a black-maned lion, just outside Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
Theodro Bronkhorst, right, a professional hunter, arrives for his appearance at the magistrates courts in Hwange about 700 kilometres south west of Harare, Wednesday, July 29, 2015. Bronkhorst who was granted $1000 bail has been charged with failure to prevent an unlawful hunt that resulted in the killing of Cecil the lion by Minnesota dentist, Walter James Palmer, in Zimbabwe. (AP Photo)
Farm owner Honest Trymore Ndlovu appears at Hwange magistrates' court to face poaching charges, about 435 miles (700 kilometers) west of the capital Harare, Wednesday, July, 29, 2015. Ndlovu and his co-defendant, professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst , are accused of helping Walter James Palmer hunt the lion. Zimbabwean police said they are looking for Palmer, the American dentist who reportedly paid $50,000 to track and kill the animal. (AP Photo)
This photo shows the dental offices of Walter James Palmer in Bloomington, Minn., on Tuesday, July 28, 2015. Palmer, an avid hunter, is accused of illegally killing a well-known and protected lion, named Cecil, during a big game hunt in Zimbabwe. The killing has outraged animal conservationists and others worldwide. (AP Photo/Amy Forliti)
Stuffed animals adorn the doorstep of Dr. Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental office in Bloomington, Minn., Tuesday, July 28, 2015. Palmer, accused of illegally killing a protected lion in Zimbabwe, said Tuesday that he thought everything about his trip was legal and wasn't aware of the animal's status "until the end of the hunt." (Scott Takushi/Pioneer Press via AP)
Women add signs to the door outside Dr. Walter James Palmer's dental office in Bloomington, Minn., Wednesday, July 29, 2015. Palmer reportedly paid $50,000 to track and kill a black-maned lion, just outside Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
A woman writes on a sign outside Dr. Walter James Palmer's dental office in Bloomington, Minn., Wednesday, July 29, 2015. Palmer reportedly paid $50,000 to track and kill a black-maned lion, just outside Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 29: Rachel Augusta leads the protest of the killing of Cecil the lion in the parking lot of hunter Dr. Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental Clinic on July 29, 2015 in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to reports, the 13-year-old lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed by Dr. Palmer, who had paid at least $50,000 for the hunt. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
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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.

"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.

"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.

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