HWANGE, Zimbabwe (AFP) - A professional Zimbabwean hunter was granted bail on Wednesday on charges of "failing to prevent an illegal hunt" after he organised an expedition in which an American dentist killed a lion popular with tourists.
The death of Cecil the lion triggered an outpouring of anger around the world after it was alleged that the beast was lured out of Hwange National Park and shot with a powerful bow and arrow.
Theo Bronkhorst, wearing a green sleeveless jacket, was ordered to lodge a US$1,000 (S$1,300)deposit at the court in Hwange in northwestern Zimbabwe after a day of negotiations between police, prosecutors and lawyers.
Dentist Walter Palmer, an experienced trophy hunter from Minnesota, is thought to have left Zimbabwe some weeks ago.
"After hearing submissions from both counsel, bail is hereby granted," magistrate Lindiwe Maphosa said, setting Bronkhorst's trial date for Aug 5.
Co-accused Honest Ndlovu, a land owner, was scheduled to appear in court on Thursday on separate charges.
Palmer, whose whereabouts are unknown, has been targeted with vicious abuse after he admitted killing Cecil and said he had been mislead by his guides.
A family friend said that Bronkhorst believed he had acted legally during the hunt earlier this month and was shocked to find that the lion was wearing a collar.
"He is a very professional, very honest conservationist," Ian Ferguson told AFP on Wednesday.
"This has just about destroyed the family, his wife has virtually had a nervous breakdown.
"The whole thing was perfectly legal. When they found the lion had a collar... he went and reported to the national parks immediately.
"This was just a terrible, very unfortunate act."
Palmer issued a statement on Tuesday, saying he had "relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt".
"I have not been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or in the US about this situation, but will assist them in any inquiries they may have," he said.
Amid a fierce outpouring of anger, radical US animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) even called for Palmer to be hanged.
"He needs to be extradited, charged, and, preferably, hanged," Ingrid Newkirk, president of Peta US, said in a statement.
"All wild animals are beloved by their own mates and infants, but to hunters like this overblown, over-privileged little man... they are merely targets to kill, decapitate, and hang up on a wall as a trophy."
The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force charity said Palmer and Bronkhorst had gone out at night with a spotlight and tied a dead animal to their vehicle to lure Cecil into range.
It alleged Palmer's first shot did not kill the lion, which was eventually shot dead 40 hours later.
Cecil, aged about 13, was described by safari operators as an "iconic" animal was recognised by many visitors to Hwange due to his distinctive black mane.
The tracking collar was part of a University of Oxford research programme.
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 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.
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.
It is outlawed, however, in Zimbabwe's national parks.
Bronkhurst, whose son Zane is being sought for questioning, was ordered by the judge to report to a police station three times a week and surrender his passport.