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Man Who Shot Cecil the Lion Speaks Out

This handout picture taken on October 21, 2012 and released on July 28, 2015, by the Zimbabwe National Parks agency shows a much-loved Zimbabwean lion called "Cecil" which was allegedly killed by an American tourist on a hunt using a bow and arrow.

The U.S. dentist who killed one of Zimbabwe's most beloved lions in July, causing an international uproar about trophy hunting, has emerged from weeks of silence and has given an interview.

In an interview conducted jointly Sunday by theMinneapolis Star Tribune and the Associated Press, Walter Palmer said, "If I had known this lion had a name and was important to the country or a study, obviously I wouldn't have taken it. ... Nobody in our hunting party knew before or after the name of this lion."

Palmer killed a rare black-maned lion, affectionately known as Cecil the lion, who was being tracked with a GPS (global positioning system) collar as part of an Oxford University research project.

National park

Cecil was a well-known fixture at Zimbabwe's vast Hwange National Park.

Palmer, 55, said the hunt was legal and he has not been charged with a crime.

FILE - Protesters hold signs during a rally outside the River Bluff Dental clinic against the killing of a famous lion in Zimbabwe, in Bloomington, Minnesota, July 29, 2015.

He said he shot the animal with an arrow from his compound bow outside the park's border, but Cecil did not die immediately.

Palmer disputed accounts that the wounded animal wandered for 40 hours and was finished off with a gun. He said the lion was tracked down the next day and killed with another arrow.

He did not reveal how much he paid for the guided safari hunt outside of Hwange, saying only that it was not more than $50,000 as reported in the media.

Lured from park

Emmanuel Fundira, the president of the conservation group Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe, said recently that Palmer worked with his guides to lure Cecil out of Hwange to an unprotected area by strapping a "dead animal to their vehicle."

Fundira said the hunting party tried, and failed, to destroy the GPS collar.

It remains unclear what happened to Cecil's corpse. Palmer did not give any details Sunday.

Animal rights activists championed drives after the killing to have Palmer sent back to Zimbabwe to face undetermined charges. However, no formal steps have been taken by Zimbabwe to have Palmer return, said Joe Friedberg, an attorney acting as an unpaid consultant to Palmer.

Palmer said he was "heartbroken" that the animosity against him caused disruption to the lives of his family and the staff of his dental practice.

FILE - A combination photo shows Zimbabwean safari operator Honest Ndlovu, right, and fellow countryman and hunter Theo Bronkhorst waiting to appear in Hwange magistrates court over the death of Cecil the lion, July 29, 2015.

His home and dental office became protest sites. Protesters, including children dressed in lion suits, showed up at his office the day after the revelation of Cecil's killing.

To return to practice

Palmer's practice was shuttered for several weeks but was reopened in late August without him on the premises. Palmer said he plans to return to his office Tuesday.

He said the ordeal has been particularly hard on this wife and daughter.

"I don't understand that level of humanity to come after people not involved at all," Palmer said.

Several airlines announced they would no longer carry lion, leopard, elephant, rhino or buffalo trophies after the outrage caused by Cecil's killing.

However, some African countries criticized the decision, saying a "blanket ban" does not distinguish between the legal and illegal wildlife trades or that the ban would hurt conservation efforts that rely on revenue from hunters.