Lion-killing dentist hires a PR firm to manage the ongoing backlash

In the face of an international backlash – fuelled by celebrity input – American Walter J Palmer has hired a PR firm. 

The dentist controversially killed Cecil the lion – one of Africa's most famous big cats and the star attraction at Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park – around three weeks ago. 

He paid €45,000 to shoot the animal with a crossbow, later leaving him skinned and headless on the outskirts of the park after posing up proudly for photographs with his body.

And it has now been revealed that the medic has gone into hiding. He has received numerous death threats since news of the lion's slaughter first emerged earlier this week.

Indeed, he has employed Austin & Associates, a public relations firm based in Ohio, to handle to controversy. 

In a statement – the first time he has spoken publicly on the matter – Dr Palmer claimed: “In early July, I was in Zimbabwe on a bow hunting trip for big game.

"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,” he continued.

“I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt. I have not been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or in the US about this situation, but will assist them in any inquiries they may have.

Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion.”

His Minneapolis dental surgery has since been forced to close. Activists have also left flowers, cards, and stuffed toys – in particular lions – at his place of work and his home.

Some have also dressed as 'dentist hunters' – armed with water-guns and wearing lion masks.

Cara Delevingne, and Ricky Gervais, as well as models Behati Prinsloo and Candice Swanepoel – who hail from Namibia and South Africa respectively – are just some of the celebrities who have take to social media to criticise Dr Palmer's actions. 

In an emotional appeal, American television host Jimmy Kimmel also asked viewers to donate to the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit in retaliation. 

And Peta said on its Twitter account that he should be "extradited, charged and, preferably, hanged," for his actions. 

Yesterday, Emmanuel Fundira, the president of the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe, confirmed at a news conference that Dr Palmer is wanted for the death of Cecil.

The Zimbabwean authorities are acting fast too: Dr Palmer's hunting colleagues, Zimbabwean Theo Bronkhorst and local landowner Honest Ndlovu are due to appear in court today on poaching charges.

If convicted, the men face up to 15 years in prison.