Hunt on for dentist who killed Cecil the Lion

Zimbabwean police said they continue to search for an American dentist who allegedly shot a well-known, protected lion with a crossbow in a killing that has outraged conservationists and others.

Dr. Walter J. Palmer allegedly paid $50,000 to kill the lion named Cecil, Zimbabwean conservationists said.

Various media outlets reported that Palmer issued an apology to his patients for the killing.

It reads in part: "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."

Two Zimbabwean men appeared in court Wednesday for allegedly helping with the hunt. Palmer faces poaching charges, according to police spokeswoman Charity Charamba.

"We arrested two people and now we are looking for Palmer in connection with the same case," said Charamba.

Emmanuel Fundira, the president of the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe, said at a news conference Tuesday that Palmer is from Minnesota and his current whereabouts were unknown.

Phone calls to two listed home phone numbers for Palmer rang busy on Tuesday. Phone calls to his dental office in the Minneapolis suburb of Blooming ton also went unanswered, and a message couldn't be left because the office mailbox was full.

The front door to the office building was locked when a reporter approached Tuesday morning. A woman who came to the door said Palmer was not in the office and was not seeing patients on Tuesday.

The two arrested Zimbabwean men -- a professional hunter and a farm owner -- face poaching charges, the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority and the Safari Operators Association said in a joint statement. Killing the lion was illegal because the farm owner did not have a hunting permit, the joint statement said. The lion was skinned and beheaded. The hunters tried to destroy the lion's collar, fitted with a tracking device, but failed, the statement said.

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

The lion is believed to have been killed on July 1 in western Zimbabwe's wildlife-rich Hwange region, its carcass discovered days later by trackers, the statement said.

The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said in a statement that an American paid the $50,000 for the hunt. During a nighttime hunt, the men tied a dead animal to their car to lure the lion out of a national park, said Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force. The American is believed to have shot it with a crossbow, injuring the animal. The wounded lion was found 40 hours later, and shot dead with a gun, Rodrigues said in the statement.

"The saddest part of all is that now that Cecil is dead, the next lion in the hierarchy, Jericho will most likely kill all Cecil's cubs," said Rodrigues.

The Zimbabwean hunter accused in the case claimed that Cecil was not specifically targeted, and the group only learning after the fact that they had killed a well-known lion, according to the Safari Operators Association.

Cecil, recognizable by his black mane, was being studied by an Oxford University research program, the conservation group said.

Tourists regularly spotted his characteristic mane in the park over the last 13 years, said Lion Aid, also a conservation group.

Copyright 2015/ MYFOXNY The Associated Press. All rights reserved.