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Dentist sought over killing of well-known and protected lion Cecil thought hunt was legal

Well-known protected lion Cecil before he was killed
Well-known protected lion Cecil before he was killed

An avid American hunter accused of illegally killing a protected lion in Zimbabwe has said that he thought everything about his trip was legal.

Dentist Walter Palmer, who has a felony record in the US related to shooting a black bear in the state of Wisconsin, released his statement through a public relations firm after being identified by Zimbabwean authorities as the American involved in the July hunt.

They said he is being sought on poaching charges, but Mr Palmer said he has not heard from US or Zimbabwean authorities.

He added that he was not aware of Cecil the lion's status in Zimbabwe "until the end of the hunt".

"I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favourite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt. I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt," said Mr Palmer, who lives in the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie.

According to US court records, Mr Palmer pleaded guilty in 2008 to making false statements to the US Fish and Wildlife Service about a black bear he fatally shot in western Wisconsin.

Mr Palmer had a permit to hunt but shot the animal outside the authorised zone in 2006, then tried to pass it off as being killed elsewhere, according to court documents. He was given one year probation and fined nearly 3,000 US dollars.

Mr Palmer was identified by the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe and police as the American facing poaching charges for the crossbow killing of Cecil, a well-known and protected lion.

The animal's death has outraged animal conservationists and others.

Local authorities in Zimbabwe allege the lion was lured from a protected area and killed in early July. Zimbabwean conservationists said the American allegedly paid 50,000 US dollars for the trip.

The lion's death has outraged animal conservationists and others, including US representative Betty McCollum, a Minnesota Democrat. In a statement late on Tuesday, the congresswoman called for an investigation by the US Attorney's Office and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to see whether any US laws were violated.

Mr Palmer's whereabouts were unknown on Tuesday. No-one answered the door at his home, and a woman who came out of his dental office in nearby Bloomington said he was not taking patients.

Mr Palmer has several hunts on record with the Pope and Young Club, where archers register big game taken in North America for posterity, said Glenn Hisey, the club's director of records. Mr Hisey said he did not have immediate access to records showing the types and number of animals killed by Palmer, but noted that club records involve legal hunts "taken under our rules of fair chase".

Although African game would not be eligible, Mr Hisey said he alerted the group's board that Mr Palmer's ethics were being called into question. He said Mr Palmer's domestic records could be jeopardised if he is found to have done something illegal abroad.

A Facebook page for Mr Palmer's Minnesota dental practice was taken offline after users flooded it with comments condemning Mr Palmer's involvement in the hunt.