Animal rights organisation PETA said it wants to see Walter Palmer, the American dentist who hunted and shot dead Zimbabwe's beloved lion Cecil, "extradited, charged and preferably hanged".
Palmer released a statement on Tuesday saying he "had no idea" Cecil was a local favourite until the end of the hunt, which took place on July 1. The 13-year-old lion was found beheaded and skinned outside Hwange National Park, after being lured out of the borders with bait.
The protected lion known as Cecil strolls around in Hwange National Park, in Hwange, Zimbabwe in 2012
The lion, who had a distinctive black mane, was collared as part of an Oxford University study which has been ongoing since 1999, and was protected inside the park.
Palmer reportedly paid 50,000 US dollars (£32,000) to guides so that he could carry out the killing. The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said Palmer tied a dead animal to a car to lure the lion out of the national park before shooting him with a crossbow. The wounded lion was tracked down 40 hours later and shot dead by Palmer's group.
Cecil's six cubs are now expected to be killed by the next lion in the hierarchy, to prevent them mating.
Palmer (left) with one of his many "trophies"
In a statement released on Tuesday evening, PETA president Ingrid Newkirk said:
"Hunting is a coward’s pastime. If, as has been reported, this dentist and his guides lured Cecil out of the park with food so as to shoot him on private property, because shooting him in the park would have been illegal, he needs to be extradited, charged, and, preferably, hanged.
To get a thrill at the cost of a life, this man gunned down a beloved lion, Cecil with a high-powered weapon. All wild animals are beloved by their own mates and infants, but to hunters like this overblown, over-privileged little man, who lack empathy, understanding, and respect for living creatures, they are merely targets to kill, decapitate, and hang up on a wall as a trophy.
The photograph of this dentist, smiling over the corpse of another animal, who, like Cecil, wanted only to be left in peace, will disgust every caring soul in the world."
"This was an animal species which should not have been hunted," a member of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force told BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday morning.
Dominic Dyer, policy advisor for the Born Free Foundation, added: "Every aspect in this hunt was wrong. The courts must take action against Palmer. If the EU and the American government stop the import of heads and skins of these animals then people would not go abroad to hunt them. It's a very important step."
Palmer was previously described as an "elite hunter"
In 2008, Palmer pleaded guilty to making a false statement to federal wildlife officials concerning the exact location of the killing of a black bear during a hunt in Wisconsin.
Palmer, a dentist in his early 50s from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, was described as an "elite hunter" by a New York Times journalist, who profiled the American in a 2009 article.
"Palmer, said to be capable of skewering a playing card from 100 yards with his compound bow, has cultivated a purist’s reputation for his disinclination to carry firearms as backup," the journalist wrote.
Palmer has gone into hiding after the outcry over the killing of Cecil
On a blog called "Trophy Hunt America", Palmer is pictured holding up various dead animals he had killed with his crossbow and arrow - including a leopard he had slain in Zimbabwe.
According to the blog, which is run by a hunting guide, Palmer was hoping to be inducted in the Pope & Young Club, a "fraternity of bowhunters" which supports the ethical pursuit of wildlife, and keeps records on bow-harvested big game animals.
In a statement released on Tuesday by a local public relations company, Palmer said: "I hired several professional guides, and they secured all proper permits.
"To my knowledge, everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted. I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favourite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt. I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt."
Beks Ndlovo, chief executive of the African Bush Camps, a private safari company in Zimbabwe, said he wanted the practice of hunting lions to be stopped.
"In my personal capacity... I strongly object and vehemently disagree with the legalising and practice of hunting lions in any given area.
"I will personally be encouraging Zimbabwe National Parks and engaging with Government Officials to stop the killing of lions and with immediate effect."
After being identified as the killer, Palmer's Yelp page was besieged buy furious commenters. One person posted: “Nothing in this world would give me greater pleasure than to see your head mounted on a wall, your carcass defiled, degraded and paraded as you did to Cecil and near countless other animals."
Palmer's dental practice is now closed, with local residents posting pictures of the surgery with tributes to the fallen lion outside. A note on the door of his home referred callers to the public relations firm.