Two years to the month after Cecil the Lion was killed in a controversial hunt in Zimbabwe, one of his sons has also been shot and killed in a legal trophy hunt, ringing similarities to the death of his father.
The six-year-old lion cub, Xanda, was shot by a trophy hunter outside of the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe—close to the area where Cecil was killed with a bow and arrow in 2015—the Telegraph first reported.
Andrew Loveridge, a zoology researcher at Oxford University, has not responded to a request for comment but he told the Telegraph that Xanda was wearing a collar at the time of his death, which allowed researchers to monitor his movements in the area.
"I fitted [the collar] last October,” Loveridge told the paper. “It was monitored almost daily and we were aware that Xanda and his pride was spending a lot of time out of the park in the last six months, but there is not much we can do about that.”
Zimbabwean professional hunter Richard Cooke reportedly saw the collar after killing Xanda, and he later returned it to the researchers. Because the lion was over the age of six and outside the park’s boundaries, the kill was legal in the country.
Xanda's death raises fresh questions about the value of trophy hunting, says Luke Dollar, the conservation biologist who heads National Geographic's Big Cats Initiative. "Often times we have concerns with this—is the value of that animal who was shot one time equal to the economic benefit that that animal’s sustained existence and draw for tourism would have been over its life to the local and national economies?" Dollar asks. "That’s an ongoing debate between hunters and conservationists."
Although it's uncertain whether Xanda was an alpha male, Dollar said the lion's death could be even more tragic for his pride if he was—other lions could die if a new alpha male tried to take over.
“Regardless, it’s obviously very sad to hear that this lion was lost,” Dollar said. “From an ecosystem perspective, lions and every top predator play a huge role in maintaining the long-term balance of nature in its natural state without constant intervention and management, so that's something important for people to remember.”
Cecil the Lion's Infamous History
Cecil the lion's killing on July 1, 2015 in Zimbabwe sparked intense international outrage—what many call the biggest response to a wildlife story in history. A well-known lion that was part of a groundbreaking study led by Oxford University, Cecil was shot by Minnesota dentist Walter James Palmer, then 55. In response to an outpouring of anger online and in-person protests, Palmer went into hiding for weeks, temporarily closing his dental practice.
Zimbabwe temporarily suspended legal lion hunting for 10 days. And although there was public pressure to charge Palmer in Zimbabwe he never faced legal action. He maintained that he had purchased the legal permits to kill a lion in Zimbabwe and said he did not know the individual was famous or part of a study (though researchers argued Cecil's tracking collar should have been hard to miss). Charges were also dropped against the local hunter who organized the trip.
Source: Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Unit, International Fund for Animal Welfare, New York Times, Reuters, The Guardian
Palmer is said to have paid $54,000 to bow-hunt Cecil, a magnificent, black-maned, 13-year-old lion who lived in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park and was well known to visitors. Palmer hit Cecil with an arrow on a private farm outside the park, a place where the lion usually went to explore. The hunting party tracked the famed cat and shot him again 11 hours later.
Scientists immediately worried that Cecil's pride of 14 offspring, which he co-ran with his brother Jericho, would be slaughtered by a rival male, but that never came to pass.
Still, Cecil's killing led to greater scrutiny of trophy hunting for the heads, skins, or other body parts of wild animals. Eight African countries allow the consistent export of lion parts, including Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Tanzania, which holds nearly half the continent’s wild lions.
But after Cecil's death, countries took a closer look at the practice. Many airlines banned the transport of lion and other animal parts, citing negative publicity. Trophy hunting was already banned in Kenya and Botswana, but after Cecil's death, Australia flat out banned trophy importation. So did France. The United States, the biggest importer of lion trophies, added new protections for lions under the Endangered Species Act. Hunters now can’t bring back their trophies unless the animal came from a country that uses hunt fees to bolster lion conservation.
As further context of the incident, lions have declined precipitously in the wild, down from an estimated 200,000 continent-wide a century ago to about 20,000 today. Trophy hunting advocates and some conservationists argue that fees from hunts support conservation efforts for the big cats, whose main threats are habitat loss, prey depletion, and greater conflict with humans. But the practice remains highly controversial, particularly among the animal-loving public in the West.
Brian Clark Howard and Jani Actman contributed to this story.
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