Following last month's death of a beloved Zimbabwean lion named Cecil, which outraged many around the world, fears emerged that Cecil's brother, Jericho, was also shot and killed by a hunter on Saturday.
But in an email to BuzzFeed News on Sunday, the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) at Oxford University said Jericho was "alive and well."
Here is the statement from David Macdonald, director of WildCRU:
Jericho is alive and well. Last night we were surprised so see rumours of the death of a second lion, Jericho, circulating in the media – we had no evidence for this. The rumours claimed he too had been hunted illegally. The WildCRU field research team and a National Parks ranger set out at daybreak to attempt to find him. People will realise that even with the aid of tracking equipment, this is difficult and skilful work in remote bush. Andy Loveridge contacted me moments ago. Jericho was seen alive and well at 06.15am. He has been feeding on a giraffe kill with the lionesses from his pride. Jericho is large male lion, about 11 years old, who has been intensively monitored as part of our detailed study of lion behavioural ecology in Hwange National Park. WildCRU's Brent Stapelkamp was able to get the attached photo of Jericho.
Many people have asked if Jericho and Cecil were brothers. They were not related though their bond was one close to brotherhood. Male lions often form what are termed co-operative 'coalitions' with unrelated males in order to better compete with other males for territories and prides. In fact 42% of male lion coalitions are genetically unrelated, though larger coalitions tend to be brothers or half-brothers. This sort of detailed understanding of lion ecology and social behaviour, which takes years of meticulous work allows conservationists to devise the most appropriate conservation strategies to conserve these iconic cats.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News on Saturday, a spokesperson for Oxford University, which had been monitoring the pride for research, said the university was "seeking to clarify conflicting reports" about Jericho's fate.
Concerns were raised when the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said on Saturday that Jericho had been killed. The group's president told BuzzFeed News by phone that the lion was shot by a hunter.
However, Brent Stapelkamp, a field researcher for the Hwange Lion Research Project, which is montioring Jericho using a GPS tag, told Reuters the lion was appeared "alive and well."
Another Zimbabwe wildlife conservation group also said that Jericho was OK.
On Sunday, the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force apologized for reporting the incorrect news of Jericho's death.
Cecil, who was being monitored by Oxford University scientists, was lured out of a conservation area and shot by an American dentist last month.
Zimbabwe government ministers want the dentist extradited to face charges, and the U.S. government made contact with him on Friday, authorities told BuzzFeed News.
Adding to the sadness, conservationists had warned that Cecil's six cubs would also likely be killed by a rival male lion seeking to establish dominance in the pride.
"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," David Macdonald, project manager of Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Unit wrote.
But a surprise hero had stepped up to protect the cubs!
The cubs are being protected by Cecil's "brother," Macdonald wrote, saying he is "still holding the fort."
Macdonald later clarified that although Jericho is not in fact Cecil's biological brother, he "has a stake in their survival."
"Jericho is as likely as Cecil to be the father of some of the cubs, so he has a stake in their survival," he said.
"Right now, Jericho is in good health and he (and the lionesses) will defend the cubs. We have no evidence of any new coalition threatening them so there is a good chance that all will be well."
Some good news amid the slaughter: After Jimmy Kimmel made an emotional plea for donations for the Oxford research group after Cecil's death, money has been flooding in.
Almost $470,000 has been raised so far, Macdonald said, leaving his team "overwhelmed and inspired."
American philanthropist Tom Kaplan and his wife Daphne have even agreed to pledge around $150,000 to match every dollar raised to help the Oxford team reach a $780,000 goal.
"We have to seize this moment where we can all make a difference," Tom Kaplan said. "Jimmy Kimmel nailed it: If the tragic, illegal, death of Cecil can lead to the saving of many more lions, then some good can come from tragedy."