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Reports of death of Cecil the lion's brother disputed by researcher

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Reports that Jericho – the brother of Cecil the lion who was killed by a Minnesota hunter earlier this month – was illegally killed in Zimbabwe flooded the Internet Saturday.

By that evening however a researcher had disputed the claim, and the status of Jericho was uncertain.

It was initially reported by numerous outlets the lion was killed Saturday in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, gunned down by a hunter who was operating illegally.

The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force announced the news on Facebook, saying the notice came "with huge disgust and sadness."

But around 6:30 p.m. CST, CNN and USA Today published stories with new, conflicting information. Brent Stapelkamp, an Oxford University researcher following Jericho, said the lion's GPS device does not indicate he's been killed.

An Oxford spokesperson told CNN they're working to verify the conflicting claims.

Bhejane Trust, a wildlife nonprofit based in Zimbabwe, wrote its own Facebook post calling reports of Jericho's death "false information." It says the confusion probably comes from another incident involving a lion killed on July 2.

Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority has not released any information on its website or social media accounts as of 9 p.m. Saturday.

NPR spoke with one of the research leaders, who said they would try to confirm Jericho's status when it was daytime again in Zimbabwe.

Cecil's death

The news comes after the death of his brother Cecil by Bloomington dentist Dr. Walter Palmer earlier this month, which prompted international outrage and an investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

It was reported on Friday by the Mail Online that Jericho had been keeping rival males away from Cecil's six cubs.

Lion cubs are generally killed following the death of their father by rival males taking control of the pride, and Jericho's death will put the cubs at serious risk, he publication says.

Cecil was a well-known lion at the park because of his black mane, and was collared as part of a study by Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Unit at the time of his death. The lion was lured out of the park and on to private land to be killed, the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF) wrote.

Palmer, owner of River Bluffs Dental in Bloomington, has not been seen publicly since it was revealed he was responsible for Cecil the lion's death.

The 55-year-old identified himself as the man who shot Cecil, a protected and beloved research animal, but noted he “deeply” regrets his actions and was under the impression everything with his hunt and the guides was legal.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it wanted to speak with Palmer. A representative of his reached out to the agency Thursday night.

On Friday morning, Zimbabwe officials said they’re seeking to extradite the man.

The Associated Press has a Q&A on the possible extradition process.

The Star Tribune ran a story about big-game hunters, and how the uproar over Cecil's killing has led them to fear for their safety – even if they've followed all laws and done nothing illegal with their hunts.

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