Confirmed: Jericho the lion is alive

Updated 9:42 AM EDT, Sun August 2, 2015

Story highlights

NEW: A researcher tracking Jericho and a conservation group confirm that Jericho is alive

An Oxford researcher says movements of lion's GPS collar are normal

The head of a conservation task force earlier said a hunter illegally killed Jericho

CNN —  

[Breaking news update, 8:15 a.m. ET]

Jericho the lion is alive and well and roaming his park habitat in Zimbabwe, the Oxford University researcher tracking the lion confirmed on Sunday.

Brent Stapelkamp dismissed reports that the lion had been killed, saying a GPS device on Jericho didn’t suggest anything out of the ordinary. Furthermore, the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, which told CNN and other media Saturday that poachers had killed Jericho, retracted those statements on Sunday.

The head of the conservation task force, Johnny Rodrigues, said in a new statement that the erroneous information was the result of mistaken identity. Rodrigues said that another lion had been killed, something that CNN cannot immediately verify.

As proof of life, Oxford University tweeted a photo of Jericho, taken by Stapelkamp early Sunday morning.

The erroneous reports of Jericho’s death elicited strong reactions on the heels of the killing of his ally, Cecil. Cecil’s death at the hands of a lion hunter sparked international outrage because he was a protected animal. Zimbabwe is seeking the extradition of American dentist Walter Palmer, who is accused – along with at least two others – of illegally hunting the lion, authorities said.

[Previous story, published at 6:33 p.m. ET Saturday]

Conflicting reports emerged on whether Jericho, the brother of slain Cecil the lion, was also killed Saturday in an illegal hunt in Zimbabwe.

Johnny Rodrigues, head of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told CNN that a hunter illegally gunned down Jericho in Hwange National Park.

The task force also reported on its Facebook page that Jericho was killed at 4 p.m. local time.

Later, however, an Oxford University researcher tracking Jericho told CNN that the lion was alive and moving as of 8 p.m. local time Saturday, based on the GPS data from the animal’s collar.

Cecil the lion backlash: Where is dentist Walter Palmer?

The GPS device didn’t suggest that Jericho was killed or that anything was out of the ordinary, said Brent Stapelkamp, a field researcher who is part of a team tracking Jericho in Zimbabwe.

“We are seeking to clarify conflicting reports,” an Oxford representative said.

Other government officials weren’t immediately available for comment.

At a minimum, the conflict over Jericho added to the angst in the wake of Cecil’s killing, which provoked an international outrage because he was a protected animal. Zimbabwe is seeking the extradition of American dentist Walter Palmer on accusations that he and others illegally hunted the lion, authorities said.

Read the letter Palmer sent to patients

The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force was emphatic on its Facebook page when it declared Jericho dead.

“It is with huge disgust and sadness that we have just been informed that Jericho, Cecil’s brother has been killed at 4pm today,” the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said.

“We are absolutely heart broken,” the Task Force added on the Facebook posting.

#WalterPalmer: From hunter to hunted – Internet seeks revenge for Cecil the lion

Jericho is apparently caring for and defending Cecil’s cubs, and the survivability of those cubs would have been imperiled if Jericho had indeed been killed.

Some of the cubs may have been Jericho’s, said David Macdonald, director of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, who has been studying Cecil.

Male coalitions, often between brothers, oversee prides of females in lion society and protect them from threats posed by outsider male lions, the scientist said.

Kimmel chokes up on air over Cecil the lion, likens hunter to Bill Cosby

But if Jericho were killed, the cubs’ chance for survival “is probably gone,” said Dave Salmoni, an apex predator expert for Animal Planet.

Jericho’s death would seal “the fate of these cubs, for sure,” Salmoni told CNN.

Cecil, who was killed in early July, mated with about six lionesses and had about 24 cubs, Rodrigues has said.

Opinion: Can Zimbabwe have lion’s killer extradited?

CNN’s Hamilton Wende and David McKenzie contributed to this report.