As It Happens

Conservationist calls killing of Cecil the lion's son Xanda 'entirely predictable'

As It Happens speaks with Luke Hunter about Xanda the lion. He is the president and chief conservation officer for Panthera, a global wild cat conservation group.
A picture of Xanda the lion in Zimbabwe earlier this year. (Bert Duplessis)

Cecil the lion's son has met a similar fate at the hands of a hunter.

This week, it was revealed that six-year-old Xanda was shot and killed outside Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe earlier this month.

Two years ago, Xanda's father Cecil made headlines around the world when it was killed for sport by an American dentist hunting in the same area. Cecil was well-known in the area for his black mane and had been closely tracked by researchers.

Luke Hunter is the president and chief conservation officer for Panthera, a global wild cat conservation group. He spoke with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann about Xanda's death. Here is part of their conversation. 

Where did your mind go when you learned that Xanda had died pretty much the same way his father Cecil the lion did?

Unfortunately, this was entirely predictable. Trophy hunting of lions is legal in Zimbabwe, as it is in a number of other countries. And in that country, it happens right on the boundaries of Hwange National Park where Xanda and Cecil lived. So sadly, you know, I sighed a deep sigh and thought it's another tragic example. But, it was entirely predictable. It will continue to happen as long as that scenario continues to be in place there.

What do you know specifically about how Xanda died?

Zimbabwe has a regulation that lions no younger than six years of age can be hunted. The idea there is that raising the age limit on legally hunted lions gives them an opportunity to reproduce so the impacts to the populations are reduced. Xanda was just over six years of age. So, actually, all of this by international and Zimbabwean law was an entirely legal hunt.

Cecil the Lion rests near Kennedy One Water Point in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, on Nov. 20, 2013. (Associated Press)

Now, Xanda was being tracked, as I understand it, with a collar. So his whereabouts would have been fairly well known. Where specifically was he? He was right on the border of this national park, as I understand it.

That's right. Oxford WildCRU division track the lions of Hwange National Park. They've got incredibly detailed knowledge on the movements of animals. And so Xanda and his pride — this is typical of this scenario — they occupied parts of the national park. But, part of their home range ... also went out of the boundaries of the national park.

So that's really the challenge here is, you know, how can you have hunting right up on the boundaries of a major national park that's so critical to a lion population? 

The lions don't know the boundaries. It's just a boundary on a paper map.

A lion wears a tracking collar as it walks inside Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park in Hwange, Oct. 15, 2015. (Reuters)

These trophy hunters, they operate in the area just outside the boundaries of the park?

That's correct, yeah. The concessions are set up adjacent to the national park in this case.

So they're usually privately owned areas. Or they're areas that the Zimbabwean government allocates as concessions adjacent to the national park. So again, in principal, it's legal for hunting to occur in those areas. It's not legal for hunting to occur inside the national park, of course.

How lucrative is this hunt to Zimbabwe?

That's a good question. I don't know, to be honest. Typically, the client — the person who hunted Xanda — would have paid tens of thousands of dollars. The majority will go to the Zimbabwean company that guided that client. In this case, I believe it's an organization called Richard Cooke Safaris, but I don't know them. ... This is a commercial enterprise. They want to make a profit from that. 

But some of the revenue in principle also goes to the conservation authority. And that's sort of the rub here. Some of the revenue is considered important by the Zimbabwean government for them to be able to do conservation. It generate revenues for that purpose.

Luke Hunter says he doesn't understand the appeal of big game hunting. (Steve Winter/Panthera )

Personally, do you think these hunts should be outlawed?

I find it really tragic that someone enjoys hunting lions for fun because I sure don't. I think they're magnificent animals and hunting them for fun really baffles me. I think it's dangerous to just call for banning unless alternatives are given.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. To hear more from Panthera's Luke Hunter, listen to the audio above.