David Macdonald and Andrew Loveridge on what really happened to Xanda
Dr Andrew Loveridge, head of the Trans Kalahari Predator Programme, who personally collared Xanda, and Professor David Macdonald spoke with Joe Shute of the Telegraph to explain the true story of what happened to Xanda the lion, and the effects of African trophy hunting.
Read the article at the Telegraph website here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/really-happened-xanda-son-cecil-lion/
What really happened to Xanda, the son of Cecil the lion?
One need only glance at a photograph of Xanda the lion to glean his proud lineage. He boasts the same luxuriant mane – although of a lighter hue to his famous father – Cecil – and the same muscular build in excess of 200kg. Then there is the unmistakeable anvil-shaped snout, and pale brown eyes the colour of the Kalahari scrub.
“You can see Cecil’s genes in him,” says conservationist Dr Andrew Loveridge, pointing to an image of a magnificent beast that until a few weeks ago was roaming the plains of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park.
Now father and son have met the same end: dispatched with a hunting rifle and hacked apart to be kept as a trophy. As with the Minnesota dentist Dr Walter James Palmer, who shot Cecil the lion in July 2015 sparking a global outcry, whoever killed Xanda would have paid tens of thousands of pounds for the pleasure.
The 13-year-old Cecil was shot illegally on land where no trophy hunting quotas existed. Although charges were never brought against Dr Palmer as his personal papers were found to be in order, and late last year his guide walked free from court in Zimbabwe, accusations against the local landowner for allowing an illegal hunt on his property appear as yet unresolved.
When Xanda was killed on the morning of July 7, some 2km outside the national park boundary, the case at first appeared far more cut and dry.
After the corpse was recovered, the professional guide leading the hunt, Richard Cooke, notified the Hwange Lion Research Project which monitors the animals as part of Oxford University’s world-renowned Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCru). He dropped off the GPS collar Xanda wore around his neck at the national park headquarters, as well as a tooth and blood and hair samples for the field researchers to log.
Unlike Cecil, Xanda was shot legally as part of an agreed quota. While Hwange’s 500-strong population of lions are protected inside its 15,000sqkm boundaries, each year seven lions are permitted to be killed by trophy hunters in areas to the north and east of the park. At six-years-old Xanda was deemed an appropriate age to be fair game, despite being in his prime.
At first, Dr Loveridge and his colleagues could do nothing more than simply clean the blood off the GPS tracking collar and mourn another premature death. After all, some 40 animals monitored by the Hwange Research Project have been killed by trophy hunters since it was established 18 years ago. As tough as it is to stomach, trophy hunting is allowed because with individuals paying between £40,000 and £70,000 to kill a lion, it provides a vital income for impoverished areas. Presently it is also accepted that lions being shot for sport is a factor in ensuring populations are not wiped out altogether – as they have been elsewhere in Africa.
But a statement released by the Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association in recent days has forced the Oxford scientists to speak out over the killing.
Despite the hunting association’s claims – wrongly attributed to Dr Loveridge’s team – that Xanda had been ousted from his pride and permanently moved out of the park, in fact they say he had three lionesses and eight cubs of around two-years-old all dependent on him.
Now his family have been left to fend for themselves. If a rival male seeks to take over another’s pride he will often kill his offspring to ensure supremacy. WildCru’s research shows that cubs are at most risk until they have reached 33 months of age – Dr Loveridge rates the chances of Xanda’s cubs survival at just 50 per cent.
The Oxford team can speak so candidly about their lions because they know them so intimately. The GPS collars (which they currently have fitted to 15 animals at £1,500 a piece, including a lioness in Xanda’s pride called Stumpy Tail) provide hourly updates affording unprecedented insight into their lives and deaths.
Xanda was first fitted with a collar in 2015 (paid for out of the $1m donations raised following Cecil’s death, many from small pledges) and in October last year it was replaced by Dr Loveridge.
When we met last week at WildCru’s Oxford headquarters, the 47-year-old Zimbabwean recalls their close encounter with a sorrowful air.
“I’ve handled that lion, felt the size of paws and seen him interact with his pride and cubs,” he says. “I cannot understand why another person would look at that wonderful animal and think they couldn’t be happy until they had killed it and put parts of its body on their wall.”
Xanda was born in the north east of Hwange national park, in an area known as the Backpans where ilala palms sway over the grasslands and Cecil once ruled supreme.
The famous lion sired 13 cubs in total and in the Backpans pride Xanda had a brother and two sisters of the same age as well as a half brother and three half sisters born by another lioness.
In 2012, Cecil was displaced by a so-called coalition of two rival males (Bush and Bhubesi) and the pride scattered. Xanda and his half brother, Sinangeni, vanished for several months but then reappeared and together began to establish a new dynasty dominating the pride until Sinangeni, too, was trophy hunted.
Left on his own, Xanda began to lose control. The deep scars on his face attest to the vicious power battles he once fought.
He split off with three lionesses and established a territory in the northernmost area of the park producing eight cubs. However, in recent months, a rival coalition of males had forced Xanda and his pride out into the teak forests that border the park where hunters are permitted to roam. Each time, the researchers would follow his movements with their hearts in their mouths.
“It’s always a risk when these animals leave, but there’s nothing really we can do,” Loveridge says. “We just hope they are in the right place at the right time and unfortunately Xanda was in the wrong place.”
The exact circumstances of Xanda’s death remain unknown, although the WildCru team has seen enough over the years to have a good idea of what may have transpired. First, the lion is tracked and an animal such as a zebra is shot, butchered and strung up in the forest for bait. The shooters then lie in wait behind a hunting screen before a lion arrives and the trigger is pulled.
Last year Professor David Macdonald, the director of WildCru, authored a Government report on lion conservation and trophy hunting and this weekend publishes a new report in the journal, Mammal Review. Contained within it is the stark figure that lion populations have declined by at least 43 per cent between 1993 and 2014 and currently number about 23,000 animals.
But trophy hunting is not the only cause of the decline, with habitat loss and a booming population in Africa placing huge strain upon areas where lions once roamed.
Indeed, Professor Macdonald observes, it is an uneasy fact that presently trophy hunting is one of the few things that brings revenue into the park which in turn helps conserve landscapes upon which lion populations rely.
He says the current land mass used for trophy hunting in Africa is the size of France and Spain combined. Without trophy hunts in some communities there is nothing else to sufficiently incentivise locals to conserve the lions which otherwise predate livestock and even people.
“While it was a legal hunt we hope this death encourages the hunting industry to appreciate the importance of the strictest possible regulation of hunting quotas and codes of practice,” Macdonald says.
When the Hwange project started, some 60 lions were allowed to be shot around the national park annually – even if this figure was never reached.
After persuading the authorities to impose a four-year moratorium, they have managed to reduce the quota and help the population recover. In the future WildCru hopes to persuade the authorities to impose a 5km exclusion zone for hunters around the park boundaries and further raise the age limit for lions that can be legally shot to better ensure the survival of a pride.
For now Xanda’s bereaved lionesses remain alive with their cubs, hiding out in the fringes of the national park.
Maybe another alpha male like Cecil or Xanda will rise among them. If the hunters do not get them first.