There may be at least a sliver of good news in the ongoing saga of Cecil the lion.
After the 13-year-old pride leader was notoriously killed last month — a trophy hunt that authorities in Zimbabwe call illegal — there was widespread speculation that his cubs would soon fall victim to a rival male. Adult male lions often kill any cubs fathered by another male when they take over his pride, and the three lionesses Cecil also left behind may be unable to fend off such an attack.
But according to tour guides and researchers familiar with the lions of Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, Cecil's cubs are still "alive and well." Safari company African Bush Camps released the video above on Aug. 5, more than a month after Cecil was killed, reportedly showing the cubs and lionesses roaming around Hwange. It also posted these Facebook photos, which offer a candid glimpse of the pride resting.
Cecil led this pride along with another male, Jericho, who isn't a blood relative but is often called Cecil's "brother." Despite a report last week that Jericho was also killed by a hunter, wildlife authorities in Zimbabwe recently confirmed that Jericho "is still alive and being monitored by Brent Stapelkamp of the Lion Research Project."
Not only is Jericho alive, but as Staplekamp tells NBC News, he might even be stepping in to help take care of Cecil's cubs.
"The way lion society works, those cubs would have bonded with Jericho, so those cubs although they might not be Jericho's specifically, he's bonded with them, he's shared kills with them, he knows the lionesses very well," Staplekamp says. "So he will protect those cubs as though they are his own. They were seen [August 4] in the national park: Three lionesses, the seven cubs, alive and healthy."
It remains to be seen how much protection Jericho will offer, but according to African Bush Camps, his presence does bode well for the cubs' survival.
"According to specialists in lion behavior and the Lion Research Unit, it is unusual for non-blood related lions to form a coalition," the company writes on Facebook. "[H]owever it does happen, and indeed happened with Cecil and Jericho, who formed a deep bond and who watched over their prides together. Whilst Jericho is still alive, the cubs have a higher chance of survival as he was an integral member of the pride."
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