In a confusing turn of events, Zimbabwean wildlife officials on Saturday reported that Jericho, Cecil the lion's brother, had maybe been killed by hunters. A senior official from Hwange National Park told CNN that the lion had been caring for his brother's cubs when he was allegedly shot. Park officials said that the possibility the protected lion had been killed had left them "heartbroken."
"I'm very disappointed [and] heartbroken," said Zimbabwean Conservation Task Force chairman Johnny Rodrigues, in a comment to USA Today. "It's just too much." Jericho's brother, the beloved park lion Cecil, was shot by a bowhunter from Minnesota earlier this month. The latest news only solidified officials' frustration.
The country's Conservation Task Force released a statement on Saturday, expressing grief over the suspected loss. But conflicting reports by the group of Oxford scientists who had been tracking both Cecil and Jericho gave wildlife experts and animal rights activists reason to hope.
"Good news, lion fans," tweeted Daily Mail Deputy News Editor David Rose. "Contrary to reports, Cecil's 'brother' #Jericho is NOT dead." Rose added that scientists tracking the lion had insisted that the lion was alive, calling the story "utter sensationalism."
The team also sent out a photo of the GPS locations of several lions, including Jericho.
Fellow Zimbabwean conservation organization, the Bhejane Trust, also released a statement denying the rumors of Jericho's death.
"False information being put out about Jericho — brother to Cecil — being shot today," wrote the group. "According to Brent Staplekamp at Hwange Lion Research, Jericho was alive and well at 8:30 p.m. [local time] tonight and moving around Antoinette Estate (where Cecil was shot) with a female." The group indicated that the rumors had likely sprung from an ongoing investigation surrounding the shooting of "another lion ... on a nearby farm."
Currently, park officials are keeping a close eye on both Cecil's cubs and Jericho. Typically, when a male lion dies, its cubs are then killed off by the next pride leader. But according to Oxford Wildlife Conservation manager David Macdonald, the fact that Jericho had stepped in to protect the cubs was a good sign.
"As you probably know, the natural law in lion society is that when a male dies and his weakened coalition is usurped, the new incoming males kill their predecessors’ cubs," wrote Macdonald in a statement on the organization's website on Thursday. "This may not happen because Cecil’s brother is still holding the fort."
Images: Getty Images