American dentist says he was unaware Cecil was so popular in Zimbabwe

American dentist Walter Palmer, who killed Cecil, Zimbabwe's most famous lion, on July 1, angering animal lovers around the world, said in an interview that he had no idea the big cat was so popular.

In his first interview since he was identified as the lion's killer, Palmer told the Minneapolis StarTribune that he had not been charged with any crimes and wanted to return to work.

"I have a lot of staff members, and I'm a little heartbroken at the disruption in their lives," Palmer said. "And I'm a health professional. I need to get back to my staff and my patients, and they want me back. That's why I'm back."

The 55-year-old Palmer, who was accompanied by an attorney and a public relations consultant during the interview, said he did nothing illegal on the hunt.

Palmer told the newspaper he had no idea that the 13-year-old Cecil, a rare black-maned lion, was so loved in Zimbabwe.

Cecil's killing sparked outrage around the world, with people taking to social media to condemn Palmer's actions, and led to protests at his dental office in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Palmer participated in a night hunt at Hwange National Park, located in western Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, or ZCTF, said in July.

Cecil was lured out of the park to a property where it would technically not be illegal to hunt him.

The big cat was wearing a collar and being monitored as part of an Oxford University lion conservation study.

Cecil was skinned and beheaded, the non-governmental ZCTF said, adding that the hunters tried to destroy the GPS collar that Cecil was wearing.

Professional guide Theo Bronkhorst, who led the hunt, and landowner Honest Ndlovu, onto whose property Cecil was lured, have been charged with participating in an illegal hunt, officials said. EFE