Cecil the lion
South African President Jacob Zuma defends American hunter Walter Palmer, accused of killing Cecil, saying he probably did not know about the lion's popularity. YouTube

South African President Jacob Zuma has called Zimbabwean lion Cecil's killing "just an incident" brushing aside the worldwide outcry.

Speaking at a press briefing in Pretoria, President Zuma condoned American hunter Walter Palmer who hunted down Cecil.

"The hunter did not know Cecil was so popular, he just saw a lion and killed a lion," said Zuma, reported AFP News.

"My feeling is that the fellow did not know."

Cecil – the much adored lion of Zimbabwe was hunted down on 1 July after being lured from the Hwange National Park, a Zimbabwean nature reserve, by 55-year-old US dentist and trophy hunter Palmer.

Cecil was not only a famous attraction at the park but also part of a University of Oxford research project.

Palmer reportedly paid some £35,000 ($55,000) to hunt down the lion.

Worldwide protests and calls for Palmer to be extradited resulted in Zimbabwe enforcing stricter hunting restrictions, however a ban on big game hunting was lifted on 10 August much to the disappointment of animal rights activists.

Zuma defended the legislation and said: "I think Zimbabwe has laws about hunting and everything, I don't think it's a matter we could really debate that much."

Meanwhile, Palmer's guide, Theo Bronkhorst, has been bailed out for £642 ($1,000) till a court trial on 28 September for organising the hunt.