(Reuters) - The Minnesota dentist whose killing of Zimbabwean lion Cecil sparked global outcry from animal lovers has maintained that the hunt was legal and says he plans to work on Tuesday, U.S. media reported.
Walter Palmer shut his dental practice in Bloomington, Minnesota in July amid a firestorm of protests after he was identified publicly as the big game hunter who had killed the rare black-maned lion, a popular tourist attraction in Zimbabwe.
In his first interview since then, the 55-year-old dentist said the hunt in early July was legal, adding nobody in the hunting party realized the targeted trophy kill was the well-known 13-year-old lion.
With his consultant, Joe Friedberg, at his side, Palmer said in a joint interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Associated Press that he now needed to resume his duties as a health professional at his River Bluff Dental Practice.
"I need to get back to my staff and my patients, and they want me back," Palmer said, in comments published on Monday in the Minneapolis newspaper.
In the interview, Palmer said he wounded the lion with a bow and arrow, tracked it and then delivered a final blow with another arrow over the course of far less than the 40 hours that has been widely reported by media.
The killing of Cecil triggered a storm of protests on social media and Palmer received threats.
Demonstrators built a small memorial of stuffed animals at the door of his practice and protested, demanding that he be charged and extradited to Zimbabwe. Vandals spray-painted "lion killer" at his Florida vacation home.
"This has been especially hard on my wife and my daughter," Palmer said in the interview published in the newspaper. "They've been threatened in the social media, and again ... I don't understand the level of humanity to come after people not involved at all."
Zimbabwe said in July it had requested Palmer's extradition as a "foreign poacher." No charges have been filed against Palmer, who must be charged in Zimbabwe before he can be extradited. The U.S. Justice Department has said it does not comment on extradition requests.
In the newspaper interview, Palmer declined to address whether he would return to Zimbabwe to face legal questions.
A professional hunter in Zimbabwe has been charged with breaching hunting rules in connection with the hunt. He has denied any wrongdoing.
(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Frances Kerry)