Oxford University scientists have responded angrily to the killing of Xanda, the oldest son of Cecil the Lion, whose death in 2015 prompted international outrage.
The scientists had been monitoring the six year old lion, who was shot dead by a professional trophy hunter 7 July.
He was killed outside the boundaries of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, close to where his father was killed by American dentist Walter Parmer almost two years ago.
Xanda, the pride male of a group of lions, was being tracked using a GPS collar by a team of Oxford researchers, including Prof David Macdonald and Dr Andrew Loveridge.
Dr Loveridge, a Senior Research Fellow at Oxford’s Department of Zoology, told the Guardian: “Xanda was one of these gorgeous Kalahari lions, with a big mane, big body, beautiful condition – a very, very lovely animal.
“Personally, I think it is sad that anyone wants to shoot a lion, but there are people who will pay money to do that.”
Loveridge had initially told the Telegraph that Cooke, Xanda’s hunter, was “one of the good guys”, who had acted ethically. He added that the hunter had returned the lion’s tracking collar to the Oxford Scientists.
However, Loveridge has since reversed his initial support of Cooke’s behaviour, and stated that his staff had previously warned Cooke that killing Xanda would harm the lion population.
He wrote in a letter to James Rosenfels, the hunters’ associate chairman, that: “Ethics is about not just adhering to the letter of the law, but also making informed ethical choices to limit the detrimental impacts of hunting activities.”
“There is no question that Mr Cooke was fully aware that this animal was a pride male,” Dr Loveridge said.
The Oxford team are now calling for a wider 5km ‘no-hunting zone’ around the National Park.
Xanda’s hunters defended the killing by describing the deceased lion as a lone male with no dependent cubs, who had been rejected from his pride and was therefore unlikely to have children in future.
They also stated that Xanda’s killing was legal as he was not in the park, where hunting lions is banned, but in a nearby forest reserve where hunters are permitted to kill one lion per year.
However, Oxford University’s Wildlife Research Conservation Unit (WildCRU) disputed these claims, and accused the Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association of misrepresenting information.
Professor Macdonald, Director of WildCRU, said: “Xanda’s death was almost two years to the day after Cecil’s, but I hope our sadness at this eerie coincidence can be balanced if this reinforces the global attention on lion conservation.
“And the Cecil Movement is, of course, not just about lions – lions are a metaphor for how humanity will live alongside all biodiversity in the 21st century: this is a huge question for our age”.