Two men are appearing in court in Zimbabwe on charges linked to the killing of Cecil, the country’s most famous lion.
Professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst and farm owner Honest Ndlovu, are charged with poaching offences for not having the required hunting permit.
US dentist Walter Palmer shot the animal with a bow and rifle.
Mr Palmer, who says he was unaware of the lion’s identity, paid for the hunt and could also face poaching charges.
The two Zimbabwean men, who accompanied him on the hunt, could face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty.
Mr Palmer says he regrets shooting the well-known animal and believed he was on a legal hunt. He relied on professional guides to find a lion and obtain the necessary permits, he said.
Separately, court records have shown that the dentist has a felony record in the US after killing a black bear in the state of Wisconsin in 2006.
He was given a one-year probation and fined $3,000 (£1,900), having shot the animal outside an authorised zone and then tried to pass it off as having been killed elsewhere.
Records from the Minnesota Board of Dentistry also show that Mr Palmer was the subject of a sexual harassment complaint which was settled in 2006.
A receptionist alleged that he had made indecent comments to her. Mr Palmer admitted no wrongdoing and agreed to pay out more than $127,000 (£81,000).
‘An activity I love’
The American tourist is believed to have paid about $50,000 (£32,000) to go on the hunt in Zimbabwe.
Cecil the lion was skinned and beheaded, according to the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF), a local charity.
More than 265,000 people have signed an online “Justice for Cecil” petition, calling on Zimbabwe’s government to stop issuing hunting permits for endangered animals.
As news of the killing and details about the perpetrator spread online, there has been a slew of comments on social media condemning Walter Palmer, with some people calling for him to face justice.
How the internet descended on the man who killed Cecil the lion
Mr Palmer insists that he believed his guides had secured “all proper permits” for the hunt.
“I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.
He said he had not been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or the US but would “assist them in any inquiries they may have”.
The dentist is believed to be back in the US, although his exact whereabouts are unknown.
“Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practise responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion,” he said.
The dental practice run by Mr Palmer was closed on Tuesday and a note was placed on the door referring visitors to a public relations firm.
The practice’s Facebook page was removed from the site after being besieged by angry comments and the company website was also taken down.
Cecil the iconic lion
- A major tourist attraction in Hwange National Park – Zimbabwe’s largest game reserve
- The 13-year-old animal was renowned for being friendly towards visitors
- Recognisable because of his large size and distinctive black mane
- Led two prides containing six lionesses and 12 cubs along with another lion, Jericho
- Was being monitored as part of an Oxford University study into lion conservation
Cecil was believed to have been killed on 1 July but the carcass was not discovered until a few days later.
The ZCTF said the hunters had used bait to lure him outside Hwange National Park during a night-time pursuit.
Mr Palmer is said to have shot Cecil with a bow, injuring the animal. The group did not find the wounded lion until 40 hours later, when he was shot dead with a gun.
Lions in Africa
Max estimated lion population
Max lion population in southern Africa
665 Approx number of ‘trophy’ lions killed for export from Africa per year
49 Lion ‘trophies’ exported from Zimbabwe in 2013
0.29% Contribution to GDP of Zimbabwe from trophy hunting
17% Of Zimbabwe’s land given to trophy hunting
The animal had a GPS collar fitted for a research project by UK-based Oxford University that allowed authorities to track its movements. The hunters tried to destroy it, but failed, according to the ZCTF.
On Monday, the head of the ZCTF told the BBC that Cecil “never bothered anybody” and was “one of the most beautiful animals to look at”.
The six cubs of Cecil will now be killed by the new male lion in the pride, Johnny Rodrigues added, in order to encourage the lionesses to mate with him.
“That’s how it works… it’s in the wild. It’s nature taking its course,” he added.