The son of Cecil the lion — Zimbabwe’s beloved big cat, whose death at the hands of an American trophy hunter triggered widespread outrage two summers ago — has been killed as well.
The Facebook group Lions of Hwange National Park said Thursday that Xanda, who was 6 and had several cubs, had been fatally shot several days ago by another trophy hunter in Zimbabwe. Andrew Loveridge, an Oxford University researcher who studies the park’s lions, said in an e-mail that the shooting took place on July 7 during a “legally sanctioned hunt.”
“We can’t believe that now, 2 years since Cecil was killed, that his oldest Cub Xanda has met the same fate,” the Lions of Hwange post said. “When will the Lions of Hwange National Park be left to live out their years as wild born free lions should?”
The group said Xanda was killed during a hunt organized by Richard Cooke Safaris, which did not respond to a request for comment. Officials at the Hwange National Park have not yet confirmed the reports.
Cecil the lion was killed in nearly the same location in 2015. The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said the 13-year-old black-maned lion was lured out of the national park and shot with a compound bow before being finished off with a rifle. His slaying provoked international outrage and intensified calls for bringing an end to trophy hunting in Africa.
Cecil was one of hundreds of Hwange National Park lions whose lives have been meticulously monitored by Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit. His movements had been followed in “minute detail” from 2008 until his death in 2015, biologist David Macdonald wrote on the unit’s website.
But Cecil was hardly the first big cat to have been shot by hunters in the area: Two other lions well known to researchers had been killed before him in 2015, and more than 60 others had met the same fate in the preceding 15 years.
What made Cecil’s death generate global outrage, the researchers later said, was a combination of unusual factors, including his dark and majestic mane, his English nickname and the dubious circumstances of his killing at the hands of a white, wealthy American.
They said they hoped the attention would lead to improved conservation science — including the purchase of additional satellite collars.
Xanda, Cecil’s son, was first collared in July 2015, and he was fitted with a new GPS satellite collar last October, Loveridge said. Xanda “spent considerable time” with his pride outside the boundary of the park and was killed just over a mile from its edge, in the Ngamo Forest, where hunting is legal, he said.
“As researchers, we are saddened at the death of a well-known study animal we have monitored since birth,” said Loveridge.
Luke Hunter, the president and chief conservation officer of the global wild cat organization Panthera, told The Washington Post that Zimbabwe law requires that hunted lions be a minimum of 6-years-old — Xanda’s age. That allows males the potential to breed, and contribute to the dwindling lion population, for at least a year or two.
But the death of a male in his prime, as Xanda was, can have dramatic consequences for the pride and offspring he leaves behind. Typically, related males will form what’s known as a coalition to protect a pride of females and their cubs from other males who seek to overtake it. Loveridge said Xanda was the “pride male,” or head male, in a pride of three females and seven cubs.
Losing one male makes the coalition far more vulnerable to usurpers, which are biologically driven to pass along their own genes by impregnating the females as soon as possible, Hunter said.
“New males come in, they take stock, and the first thing they do almost inevitably is kill all the cubs belonging to the previous males,” he said. “They just can’t afford to be stepdads … by removing the cubs, the females come back into season much, much sooner.”
It was unclear Thursday who shot Xanda, but many trophy hunters in Zimbabwe come from Europe and North America.
A Humane Society analysis published last year found that the southern African nation was one of the top sources of wildlife trophy imports to the United States between 2005 and 2014. Those imports have gotten more difficult since Cecil’s killing, however. Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed African lions under the Endangered Species Act and implemented a permitting process for trophy imports. It also banned the import of trophies of captive-bred lions killed during “canned” hunts, where the animal is confined to a small area increase the hunter’s chances.
Some U.S. airlines, including Delta, now also refuse to carry “Big Five” — lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo — wildlife trophies to the United States. A federal appeals court this spring upheld Delta’s ban after several hunting organizations challenged its legality.
In July 2015, American dentist Walter Palmer killed Cecil. Authorities in Zimbabwe said Palmer, a big-game hunter from Bloomington, Minn., had paid about $50,000 for the African safari.
Palmer later apologized, saying he thought the hunt was legal. He was not charged with a crime because authorities said he had gone through the proper channels. However, his hunting guide, Theo Bronkhorst, and a local property owner, Honest Ndlovu, were charged in the hunt. The charges against Bronkhorst were later dropped; it’s unclear where Ndlovu’s case stands.
After Palmer was identified as Cecil’s killer, he said his life was threatened. He temporarily shut down his dental practice, River Bluff Dental, where protesters created memorials, leaving stuffed lions to represent the one that he had killed.
Following the news Thursday that Cecil’s son had met the same fate, animal rights advocates voiced concerns that nothing had been learned from Cecil’s death.
“Trophy hunters continue their blood sport at a time when lions face a conservation crisis in Africa, with as few as 20,000 lions left in the wild,” Masha Kalinina, International Trade Policy Specialist with Humane Society International, said in a statement. “Xanda was a well-studied lion like his father and critical to conservation efforts in Zimbabwe. To stop lions slipping into extinction, it is critical that countries like Zimbabwe focus on keeping as many lions alive as possible and shift away from the trophy hunting industry.”
This story has been updated.