By Michael Martinez, Deborah Bloom and David McKenzie
(CNN) — 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.
“We apologize for reporting that (Jericho) had died but were confident that our sources were in fact correct,” the conservation task force said in a Facebook post Sunday.
Cecil and Jericho have been referred to as brothers, though David Macdonald, director of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford, said the lions were not blood relatives.
“They were not related, though their bond was one close to brotherhood,” Macdonald said in a statement. “Male lions often form what are termed co-operative ‘coalitions’ with unrelated males in order to better compete with other males for territories and prides.”
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.
Cecil, who was killed in early July, mated with about six lionesses and had about 24 cubs, Rodrigues has said.
CNN’s Hamilton Wende contributed to this report.