Cecil the lion was killed outside Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe on July 1, 2015. His brother and caretaker of his cubs, Jericho, was also reportedly shot and killed by a hunter on Saturday. However, a researcher subsequently said Jericho appears to be "alive and well." Screenshot courtesy of Bryan Orford/YouTube
HARARE, Zimbabwe, Aug. 1 (UPI) -- Conflicting reports emerged Saturday on the reported death of Cecil the lion's ally, Jericho -- when a researcher said the animal remains "alive and well."
Numerous news outlets reported earlier Saturday that Jericho, who'd recently been caring for Cecil's cubs, had also been shot dead by a poacher -- after Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force official Johnny Rodrigues reported the lion's death on social media.
"I'm very gutted, I'm very disappointed, I'm heartbroken. It's just too much," Rodrigues had told USA Today earlier Saturday.
CNN subsequently confirmed the story, citing a Hwange National Park official later noted to be Rodrigues.
Brent Stapelkamp, a researcher with the SATIB Conservation Trust's Hwange Lion Research, has since disputed the claims, however, saying Jericho appears to be "alive and well" and was observed moving as recently as 8 p.m. Zimbabwe time, based on data from his GPS collar.
"Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management officially confirmed Jericho is still alive and well in Hwange National Park," the non-profit Bhejane Trust posted to Facebook Saturday.
"Spokesperson for ZimParks, Caroline Washaya from ZimParks has confirmed Jericho is not killed," Wildlife at Risk International also posted.
"According to Brent Staplekamp at Hwange Lion Research, Jericho was alive and well at 8.30 tonight and moving around Antoinette Estate (where Cecil was shot) with a female. I can assure you no one is hunting lion on Antoinette after the Cecil incident!" the Bhejane Trust said earlier on Facebook.
The Bhejane Trust speculated that perhaps the ZCTF conflated Jericho with another lion who had died in the area the day after Cecil's death, National Public Radio reported.
"We believe this report [of Jericho's death] is incorrect and will confirm with a sighting of the Jericho tomorrow," Dr. Andrew J. Loveridge told NPR.
Loveridge also sought to clarify the oft-repeated claim that Jericho and Cecil are related.
"Cecil and Jericho are not brothers, but male lions frequently form coalitions with unrelated males in order to successfully hold territories." he said.
Neither Hwange park officials nor the ZCTF have yet responded to the discrepancy. CNN subsequently reported the conflicting accounts Saturday afternoon.
Cecil was lured from Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, where it is illegal to shoot animals, and killed July 1. Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer shot the animal, skinned and beheaded it and left its corpse. Zimbabwe has called for Palmer's extradition to face charges for violating poaching laws.
Since Cecil's death, Jericho has been observed in the park protecting Cecil's cubs. Park officials have been concerned whether Jericho could adequately protect the cubs from other lions, who often kill a prey's young.
"Cecil's coalition involved a partnership with another beautiful male, nicknamed Jericho," Dr. David Macdonald said the NPR report. "Jericho is as likely as Cecil to be the father of some of the cubs, so he has a stake in their survival. Right now, Jericho is in good health and he (and the lionesses) will defend the cubs."
Rodrigues said earlier Saturday that Hwange park had released a statement about 30 minutes before Jericho's supposed death, announcing a ban on hunting all lions, leopards and elephants, ABC News reported.
"The park released the statement at about 3:30, and not even half an hour later I got a phone call that Jericho was killed," he said.