AN AMERICAN dentist has been accused of killing a famous African lion that was part of an Oxford University monitoring project.

Cecil the lion, described as “one of Africa’s most famous lions”, was apparently found headless and skinned in his native Zimbabwe earlier this month.

The 13-year-old animal had been fitted with a GPS collar by a team from the university monitoring the impact of hunting on lions in the Hwange national park.

Zimbabwean police are now searching for an American who allegedly shot the lion in a killing that has outraged conservationists and others.

Authorities yesterday said two Zimbabwean men will appear in court for allegedly helping lure the lion outside of its protected area to kill it. The American faces poaching charges, according to police spokeswoman Charity Charamba.

The American allegedly paid about 50,000 US dollars (£32,000) to hunt the lion, Zimbabwean conservationists said, though the hunter and his local partners maintain they didn't know the lion they killed was protected.

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

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

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

Johnny Rodrigues, the head of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, has reportedly described Cecil’s death as a “tragedy”, leaving his six cubs to die.

Now the hunter has been named as Walter Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota, who is claimed to have spent $55,000 for the hunting experience.