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Minnesota Dentist Says He Regrets Killing Beloved Zimbabwe Lion Cecil

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A photo posted by Ay e zt rk (@a.ozturkayse) on Jul 28, 2015 at 9:59am PDT

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Authorities in Zimbabwe say a dentist from Minnesota paid $55,000 to illegally kill one of the country’s most famous lions.

Although initial reports said the killer was a Spaniard, The Telegraph named American dentist Dr. Walter J. Palmer as the hunter responsible for firing at Cecil with a bow and arrow and then later shooting the animal with a gun. Following this report, Palmer, 55, released a statement on Tuesday afternoon admitting he killed Cecil.

In his statement, the dentist from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, says he regrets killing Cecil, and he blames his hired guides for allowing the death to occur.

“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,” reads the statement.

“I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, 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.”

Cecil the lion was part of an Oxford University research project and wore a GPS collar. The 13-year-old animal, a fixture on safaris there, was lured out of the Hwange National Park with food, shot with a crossbow, tracked for 40 hours and finally killed with a gun on July 6, Johnny Rodrigues, head of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told CNN.

Several years ago, Palmer received a conviction for killing a bear in Wisconsin, reports The Star Tribune, but the dentist says he will cooperate with Zimbabwean authorities, who have yet to contact him.

The operator of the safari during which the killing occurred has been arrested, and a hearing is set for Aug. 6.

In a Facebook post, the Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association said the hunter in charge of the safari was one of its members.

“ZPHGA therefore with immediate effect, suspend his membership indefinitely,” the post said. “The professional hunter and company he works for have been co-operative in the investigation.”

Celebrities have posted their outrage over Cecil’s death on social media.

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It’s clear that Cecil – who is survived by about six lionesses and about 24 cubs, according to Rodrigues – will be missed by people and animals alike.

“He never bothered anybody,” Rodrigues told the Telegraph. “He was one of the most beautiful animals to look at.”