Luciano Ponzetto was hit by a hate campaign last Wednesday when someone recognized him in the photo posted on the Facebook page of Safari Italian Chapter, the group which organized the safari in Tanzania. Animal activists protested outside his clinic in Caluso, a town near Turin, that night.
The decision to remove him from the role of medical director at the kennel, which houses around 150 stray dogs, was made over the weekend by members of the association that runs the complex.
“We strongly oppose any form of hunting or abuse of animals, wild or domestic,” the members said in a statement.
The photo of Ponzetto, a big-game hunter who had worked at the kennel for 16 years, posing happily with the lion rapidly circulated online, with some social media commenters suggesting he be killed in revenge.
In his defence, he argued that being a vet “is not incompatible with hunting, either morally or professionally.”
Italy’s Veterinarians' Guild also agreed, saying in a statement last Thursday that “hunting is a hobby regulated by the law, which does not allow us to take measures against him.”
But his actions were heavily criticized by animal rights’ groups, with Italy’s National League for the Defence of the Dog calling for him to be expelled by the country’s national association of vets.
“How is it possible for someone to swear to devote themselves to, and to promote respect for the care and welfare of animals, only to then go hunting and declare that the two things are incompatible?” asked Piera Rosati, the group's president for Ivrea, in a statement on Saturday.
“Killing an animal for fun is quite clearly the opposite of respect and well-being.”
A spokesman for Ponzetto told The Local on Thursday that the vet was planning to take legal action against protesters who made violent threats against him as well as the media that picked up on the story, which he said had potentially damaged the vet's reputation and was “not in the public interest”.
The spokesman was not immediately available for comment on Monday when contacted by The Local.
The outcry echoed the international uproar sparked this summer after an American dentist, Walter Palmer, killed one of Africa’s iconic lions during a big-game hunting expedition in Zimbabwe.
Palmer faced prosecution for having lured the lion, called Cecil, out of a national park and killing him with a bow and arrow in an area where it is illegal to hunt.
Palmer, who reportedly paid around €45,000 for the expedition, said he had relied on professional guides to find a lion and obtain permits and that he only found out about the lion’s identity after the hunt. The charges against him were dropped by Zimbabwean officials in mid-October.