Walter Palmer, dentist who killed Cecil the Lion, denies he acted illegally

The dentist who prompted outrage by killing the famous Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe has given his first interview, saying he will return to work on Tuesday as he aims to get his life back on track.

In an interview with the Associated Press and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, 55-year-old Walter Palmer maintained that he acted legally when he killed the prize lion, and insisted he was stunned to find out it was one of Zimbabwe's most treasured creatures.

During the interview, Palmer, from Bloomington, Minnesota, told reporters he had killed the animal with an arrow, but said it didn't die immediately.

Palmer allegedly paid guides $50,000 to hunt and kill Cecil - not knowing he was a local favourite. Credit: Paula French/Zuma Press/Press Association Images

However, he denied that the wounded lion had wandered around for 40 hours before being finished off with a gun - instead claiming it was tracked down the next day and killed with an arrow.

He declined to comment on whether he would adhere to any efforts by Zimbabwe to see him extradited and charged. No formal steps to do so have so far been made public, and Palmer's legal adviser said he had heard nothing about either domestic or international investigations since early August.

Palmer - who received violent threats on social media and saw his Florida holiday home vandalised after he was named in the media - said he had been "heartbroken" that the anger about the killing had affected staff at his clinic, which also became a protest site.

Protesters rally outside Walter Palmer's clinic in Bloomington, Minnesota in July. Credit: Reuters

"I don't understand that level of humanity to come after people not involved at all," he said.

"This has been especially hard on my wife and my daughter," Palmer added.

He said he now feels safe enough to return to work, stating: "My staff and my patients support me and they want me back."

He declined to comment on any additional security measures he might make after returning to work, but police told the Minneapolis paper a security camera would remain on the clinic.

Asked whether he would return to Zimbabwe to hunt again, he said "I don't know", before adding: "Zimbabwe has been a wonderful country for me to hunt in, and I have always followed the laws."