It added that the hunters unsuccessfully tried to hide the dead lion’s tracking collar, which was part of a University of Oxford research programme.
“Cecil was skinned and beheaded. We don’t know the whereabouts of the head,” the charity alleged.
Cecil, aged about 13, was said by safari operators to be an “iconic” animal who was recognised by many visitors to Hwange due to his distinctive black mane.
– ‘Expert shot’ –
Palmer is well-known in US hunting circles as an expert shot with his bow and arrow, and has travelled across the world in pursuit of leopards, buffalo, rhino, elk and other large mammals.
His Twitter and Facebook accounts and website of his dental practice — in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota — were shut down Tuesday after being flooded with blistering attacks.
A makeshift memorial formed outside his shuttered office as people outraged by the story dropped off stuffed animals and flowers.
Hwange national park attracted 50,000 visitors last year, about half of them from abroad.
Emmanuel Fundira, president of the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe, described Cecil as “almost semi-domesticated”.
Some hunting of lions and other large animals is legal in countries such as South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe, where permits are issued allowing hunters to kill certain beasts that are beyond breeding age.
It is outlawed, however, in Zimbabwe’s national parks.
Wednesday’s court hearing was due to held in Hwange town, rather than Victoria Falls as officials had earlier said.