A little over two years after the trophy killing of a beloved lion named Cecil sparked international outcry, his oldest son Xanda has tragically met a similar fate.
The 6-year-old Southwest African lion, one of an estimated 20,000 remaining in the wild, was shot and killed by trophy hunters on July 7 after he roamed beyond the protective confines of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. According to Andrew Loveridge, a scientist at Oxford University who spent the last several years tracking Xanda, the lion's GPS tracking collar showed that he was about 1.2 miles outside the park at the time of his death.
"Xanda was one of these gorgeous Kalahari lions, with a big mane, big body, beautiful condition — a very, very lovely animal,” Loveridge told the Guardian. "Personally, I think it is sad that anyone wants to shoot a lion, but there are people who will pay money to do that."
According to officials, Xanda was killed by a legally operated trophy hunting outfit run by Zimbabwean Richard Cooke. The identity of the person who killed the lion was not revealed, a move likely intended to shield the individual from the blowback faced by the U.S. dentist who killed Cecil. At 6 years of age and being outside the national park, Xanda met the legal minimums for trophy hunts. In light of his death, and others that happened only a short distance from the park's protective boundaries, the Oxford researchers would like to see the addition of a 5-kilometer no-hunting zone.
"It is something we have suggested for years,” Loveridge added. "But there is a lot of resistance because a lot of the hunting happens right on the boundary, because that is where the animals are. The photo-tourism operators in Hwange are very keen to have that discussion. They are annoyed that this has happened."
Worth so much more alive
The outcry over Xanda's death on social media has been swift, with petitions against the practice gaining tens of thousands of signatures and groups like the African Wildlife Foundation calling for a re-evaluation on the use of trophy hunts to fund conservation efforts.
"This incident is a sad reminder that Africa must not rely on the killing of rare species to finance conservation," AWF president Kaddu Sebunya said in a statement. "It is a call to the conservation community, institutions, and governments to increase investment in alternative financing to support programs such as relocation, eco-tourism development, and securing space for these species to thrive."
While trophy hunts bring in tens of thousands of dollars to the local economy, it's increasingly clear that Africa's wildlife is more valuable alive than dead.
"One African conservationist estimated that eco-tourists from just one lodge paid more in a week to take pictures of Cecil than the $55,000 that Palmer spent to put the lion’s head on his trophy wall," Michael Markarian, policy officer for the Humane Society, wrote in 2015. "Over his lifetime, a living Cecil could have brought in $1 million in tourism."
A 2016 report by the Democratic staff of the House Natural Resources Committee further challenged the use of trophy hunts as a conservation tool. The 25-page report called "Missing the Mark" cited the trophy hunt industry as being poorly regulated and not always playing by the rules.
“In assessing the flow of trophy hunting revenue to conservation efforts, we found many troubling examples of funds’ either being diverted from their purpose or not being dedicated to conservation in the first place,” they added.
That said, trophy hunting remains an integral part of some wildlife management policies. Until more lucrative alternatives are developed for those landowners and communities who depend on such income for their livelihood, it will remain an unfortunate tool of conservation.
"Trophy hunting protects an area about the size of France and Spain combined in Africa," Loveridge told the Guardian. "So if you throw trophy hunting out, what happens to all that habitat?"