You may remember that two years ago, Minnesota dentist Walter James Palmer shot and killed Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe. This sparked global outrage against Palmer, who had to temporarily close his dentistry practice and go into hiding for some weeks.
Cecil had been well-known to visitors because he was unafraid of humans. He was also part of an important Oxford University study. Palmer claimed that he did not know that Cecil was part of a study, but researchers argue that Cecil's visible tracking collar should have been a giveaway.
Now, Cecil's six-year-old son Xanda has met the same fate. Another trophy hunter felled the young lion in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, close to where his father was killed. Richard Cooke, the professional hunter that killed Xanda, reportedly knew that Xanda was part of a study as well. Cooke even returned Xanda's tracking collar to the researchers himself.
However, the hunt was legal in Zimbabwe. Xanda was over six years old, and he was roaming outside the park's boundaries. Dr. Andrew Loveridge from Oxford University, one of the researchers who had been monitoring Xanda, said that the hunter was “one of the good guys”. Cooke was apparently ethical and, in this case, had done nothing illegal. In spite of the legality of the kill, however, Xanda's death has reignited discussions on trophy hunting. Is an animal more valuable dead or alive?
According to the Humane Society, fewer than 30,000 lions remain in Zimbabwe, where trophy hunting is legal under certain conditions. A lion's death, however, does not just affect the lion himself. If the lion is the alpha of his own pride, his death might put the pride in danger. Another male may come along and assume the role of an alpha. To be the new alpha, the new lion would have to kill the dead alpha's cubs to send the pride's lionesses into heat again. Sometimes, lionesses die protecting their cubs from an invading male.
Cecil the lion had been the alpha of his pride, alongside another lion named Jericho. Researchers had feared that Jericho might kill Cecil's cubs after Cecil's death. However, researchers were relieved to see that Jericho had adopted the cubs instead. It's unclear if Xanda is the alpha of his own pride, but he does have his own cubs.
Regardless of whether or not Xanda's killing was legal, or if he had been the alpha of his pride, his death still saddened many. However, some good can also come out of the loss of this young lion. When Cecil was killed, it forced several countries to reexamine what value trophy hunting brought to the table. Australia, for example, banned trophy importation. The United States, meanwhile, placed bringing trophies home under stricter guidelines.
Trophy hunting advocates argue that the practice brings in a lot of money that can be used for conservation efforts. People pay a lot of money to kill big cats for trophies. Palmer, for example, paid over $50,000 dollars for the privilege of killing Cecil the Lion. However, a lion has more than a monetary value. Its ecological value as an apex predator, for one thing, is priceless. It's a complicated topic, and it's one whose resolution may still be far off.
Get weekly science updates in your inbox!