29/07/2015 06:44 BST | Updated 29/07/2015 10:59 BST

Richard Dawkins Slams 'Witch Hunt' Against Cecil The Lion's Killer Dr Walter Palmer

Richard Dawkins has condemned the "hatefest" directed at Cecil the Lion's killer, Walter Palmer, in what he called an "over-the-top" witch hunt.

The biologist and writer vindicated the 55-year-old dentist from Minneapolis, saying he is just "one particular trophy hunter" who was assisted by local Zimbabwean guides for the hefty price tag of £35,000.

Dr Palmer incurred the wrath of people around the globe after news emerged that 13-year-old Cecil was shot with a crossbow and rifle, before being beheaded and skinned.

The dentist has reportedly gone into hiding since his name was made public.

A host of celebrities have spoken out against Cecil's killing, but Dawkins is the first prominent figure to make excuses for the wanted dentist.

Many people disagree with Dawkins' stance, saying that by "making an example" and "shaming" one trophy hunter, it will "send a loud message" to others.

Dawkins later tweeted that he feared his initial comments calling Dr Palmer "vile" might have contributed to the witch hunt.

Animal rights group PETA said they would like to see Dr Palmer "extradited, charged and preferably hanged".

Piers Morgan was so incensed by the killing he described in graphic detail how he would hunt and slaughter those responsible.

In the column for the Daily Mail on Tuesday, Morgan writes: "Dr Palmer makes me puke. He’s just a smirking, vile, callous assassin with no heart.

"I will sell tickets for $50,000 to anyone who wants to come with me and track down fat, greedy, selfish, murderous businessmen like Dr Palmer in their natural habit.

"We would all take a bow and fire a few arrows into his limbs to render him incapable of movement.

"Then we’d calmly walk over, skin him alive, cut his head from his neck, and took a bunch of photos of us all grinning inanely at his quivering flesh."


Cecil was being studied by Oxford University

Dr Palmer has defended his actions, saying he did nothing wrong.

In a statement the dentist 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."

Animal rights advocate, Ricky Gervais, also spoke of his sadness at the incident.

Other celebrities that expressed their "horror" of Cecil the Lion's killing include Cara Delevingne, Sharon Osbourne and Debra Messing.