By Mike Saburi

HWANGE, Zimbabwe, July 29 (Reuters) - Two Zimbabwean men who were paid $50,000 by an American hunter who killed 'Cecil', the country's best-known lion, arrived in court on Wednesday facing charges of poaching.

American hunter Walter James Palmer has also been accused by wildlife officials of killing Cecil without a permit. Palmer, who has left Zimbabwe, says he killed the lion on July 1 but believed it was a legal hunt.

Local hunter Theo Bronkhorst and Honest Ndlovu, a private game park owner, who assisted Palmer, attended at the court in Hwange, 800 km (500 miles) west of Harare.

Cecil was fitted with a GPS collar for a research project by scientists from Oxford University and was one of the oldest and most famous in Zimbabwe.

Wildlife officials say Cecil was lured out of Hwange National Park using a bait and was shot by with a bow and arrow by Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota who has since received a torrent of abuse on social media.

Palmer said he had not been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or the United States and would assist in any inquiries. (Reporting by Mike Saburi in Hwange; Writing by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Joe Brock)