Chicago (AFP) - An American dentist expressed regret for killing a much-loved Zimbabwean lion called Cecil, explaining Tuesday that he was relying on his guides "to ensure a legal hunt."
Walter Palmer has come under fierce criticism after he was named as the hunter who killed Cecil, amid allegations that it took the lion 40 hours to die.
Cecil, a popular attraction among many international visitors to the Hwange National Park, was reportedly lured outside the park's boundaries by bait and initially shot with a bow and arrow.
But the arrow is said to only have wounded him and a conservation charity said it was 40 hours before Palmer and his guide tracked Cecil down and shot him dead with a gun.
Within hours of the news breaking, Palmer's social media feeds were flooded with blistering attacks -- and threats.
The Twitter and Facebook accounts and website of his dental practice -- River Bluff Dental in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota -- were shut down. Nobody was answering the phone at the dental practice and the voicemail box was overwhelmed.
By late afternoon there were more than 1,800 message about his practice on review site Yelp and a petition demanding justice for Cecil had garnered nearly 57,000 signatures.
"I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt," Palmer said in a statement.
"I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt."
Palmer said his guides had secured "all proper permits" for his bow-hunting trip in early July and that he has not yet been contacted by officials in Zimbabwe or the United States about the incident.
He added that he "will assist them in any inquiries they may have."
"Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion," the statement concluded.
Palmer pleaded guilty in 2008 to federal charges related to the poaching of a black bear in Wisconsin, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.