First there was Cecil, a Zimbabwean lion whose allegedly illegal killing by an American hunter in 2015 ignited international outrage. Now Cecil's son Xanda has been legally killed in the same area, bringing fresh scrutiny on the "trophy" hunting of a species whose numbers in the African wild have plummeted.
Some conservation groups denounced 6-year-old Xanda's killing, saying commercial hunting bans and robust wildlife tourism in countries such as Kenya and Botswana are among the best ways to protect threatened species. The hunting industry, meanwhile, counters that it has a conservation role if it is well-regulated, channeling revenue back into wildlife areas that otherwise could end up neglected or turned into livestock farms.
Many researchers agree that Africa's lions face greater threats, including human encroachment on habitats and the poaching of animals for food, which deprives lions of prey. A more recent concern is the legal export of South African lion skeletons to a traditional medicine market in Asia, which some critics believe could lead to increased poaching of wild lions to meet demand.
"The species is in free-fall," said Will Travers, president and co-founder of Born Free, an international conservation group. He cited estimates that there are only 20,000 wild lions left in Africa.
Xanda, who was wearing a GPS collar so researchers could track him, was killed on or around July 7 just outside Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park and the shooter is a client of Zimbabwean professional hunter Richard Cooke, a group called World Heritage Species said on Facebook. Group members include Brent Stapelkamp, a researcher who monitors lions in Hwange park, where Cecil and Xanda lived.
"Although the hunt was reportedly legal (all the proper papers were in order, Xanda was over the age of 5, and he was outside the boundaries of the park), Cooke has refused to divulge the identity of his client. Cooke also led the hunt in 2015 that killed Cecil's other son," the group said.
Efforts to reach Cooke by email and phone were not immediately successful.
Zimbabwe would not name the person who shot Xanda because doing so would invite retribution and loss of business for the hunt operator, an official said.
"We don't have any laws prohibiting the hunt of collared animals. We are in the process of crafting a law to protect such animals," said Tinashe Farawo, spokesman for the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority. He said the hunter did not know that Xanda was collared, possibly because the device is not always visible under a male lion's mane, and that the collar was returned to authorities.
Farawo said wild animals often wander outside unfenced areas of national parks in Zimbabwe, and the wildlife agency is struggling with human-animal conflict in areas surrounding parks.
Like Cecil, Xanda had been monitored by WildCRU, a group affiliated with the University of Oxford in Britain.
The World Heritage Species group said researchers "were aware that Xanda had been spending more time outside the park" and that the dead lion's GPS collar was fitted in October.
Cecil was killed in a hunt in which he was illegally lured out of the wildlife park with bait and initially wounded by an arrow, according to authorities. The death unleashed an extraordinary outpouring of anger at Walter Palmer, the American dentist who shot the lion, and other foreigners who have traveled to Africa to kill wildlife.
Xanda had a pride with cubs, said the World Heritage Species group. It said "their safety and survival is now in jeopardy if a new male comes along and attempts to take over."