Xanda, aged six, was shot by a trophy hunter on 7th July, just outside the boundaries of Hwange National Park, close to where his father was killed.
The Oxford scientists who were tracking him have called for a wider no-hunting zone around the Park.
Like his father, Xanda was being tracked (using remote satellite technology) by a team led by Professor David Macdonald and Dr Andrew Loveridge of Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU).
Wildcru have worked on the conservation of big cats in Zimbabwe for almost two decades. From their close work with the lions, they know that Xanda was born into the ‘Backpans pride’ in May 2011, the son of Cecil, the study lion made posthumously famous in 2015 through his death at the hands of American dentist Walter Palmer.
Xanda was first collared as an adult lion in July 2015, and a new GPS satellite collar was fitted by Dr Loveridge and the project field team in October 2016. He was the pride male of a pride of three females and seven cubs and his movements were continuously tracked until his death. The pride’s home range spanned the National Park boundary and they spent considerable time outside the protection of the park. Xanda was shot 2km from the park boundary in the Ngamo Forest, an area were lions can be legally hunted on quota.
Dr Loveridge, a Senior Research Fellow with Oxford’s Department of Zoology, said: ‘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.’
‘I put the collar on Xanda last October and spent a bit of time following him around,’ he said. ‘You have handled them so you feel a personal engagement with the animal.’
Professor Macdonald, Director of the WildCRU, added: ‘Although it is heartbreakingly sad for us that this lion has been shot – and I can’t understand somebody taking pleasure in it – the episode shows just how important it is that we are working so intensively on the conservation of these animals, and documenting the threats they face. Indeed, donations we received following Cecil’s death enabled us to pay for Xanda’s tracking collar, to document his life and to support our remarkable Zimbabwean team dedicated to providing a scientific base for lion conservation.’
The WildCRU team is now repeating their call for a five kilometre no-hunting zone around the park. Dr Loveridge said: ‘It is something we have suggested for years. 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.’
Professor Macdonald, who was shocked to hear of Xanda’s death as he got off a plane from Australia only a few hours ago, said: ‘Our buffer zone idea also illustrates the importance of our work – we have carefully documented the movements of the lions, the threats they face, of which trophy hunting is only one, and so we know where they are at greatest risk. Our evidence provides the essential details to assist Zimbabwe’s policy-makers.’
Poignantly, Professor Macdonald had been in Australia reporting on WildCRU’s Cecil studies to a major international congress of mammal conservationists.
Cecil’s death in July 2015 sparked international outrage and a flood of support for WildCRU’s conservation work. That support has enabled them to train a cadre of remarkably dedicated young Zimbabwean conservation biologists, and to extend the lion conservation project to new areas, and into Botswana. A key aspect of the WildCRU’s practical conservation work is helping local farmers whose livestock, livelihoods and even lives are threatened by living alongside lions.
In 2016, Professor Macdonald launched the Cecil Summit with the hope, in his words, ‘of turning the Cecil Moment into the Cecil Movement’ and creating a new international momentum for conservation. Professor Macdonald, said: ‘WildCRU’s work stretches from groundedness to geopolitics – solving global problems of conservation requires both the sort of highly practical work we do with villagers in Zimbabwe, and the highest level of political decision making. That is why we assembled at the Cecil Summit not only top notch lion experts, but world-class authorities on economics, development, law and politics – this holistic approach can create a new and powerful conservation’.
He added: ‘I am pleased that recent donations will allow us to hold a second Cecil Summit, later this year: and this time we will meet in an African country to ensure the greatest possible engagement with local stakeholders.’
WildCRU, based in the Recanati-Kaplan Centre at Oxford, is studying lions in various parts of Africa to uncover the science that will inform and underpin their conservation. Lion numbers are precariously low. WildCRU and its partners have estimated that there are fewer than 30,000 across the continent and in many parts of Africa their numbers are tumbling.
The team works on the lions of Hwange National Park with the support and collaboration of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. The goal is to understand the threats that lions face, and to use cutting-edge science to develop solutions to those threats. The work involves satellite-tracking the movements of more than a hundred lions and monitoring every detail of the lives of more than 500 individuals.
WildCRU’s work is also highly practical – its projects have included running an anti-poaching team, a local conservation theatre group, and an education campaign that gets information into every school in the district. The team also works with local farmers to help them live alongside lions and improve their livelihoods.
Professor Macdonald concluded: ‘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.’
WildCRU welcomes support for its conservation research activities, including the work currently undertaken in Zimbabwe and the adjoining landscape in Botswana. In particular support is needed to fund WildCRU’s work on the conservation of lions, including the purchase of satellite tracking collars, project vehicles and the training of young Zimbabwean conservationists.-Oxfordnews