JOHANNESBURG - Uncertainty surrounds the fate of another lion linked to Cecil, the beloved Zimbabwean lion slain by an American dentist whose killing caused a global outcry, after a conservation group reported that his "brother" Jericho had also been killed Saturday.
"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, which also broke the news of Cecil's killing in the Hwange National Park, said in a statement on its Facebook page.
"We are absolutely heart broken. We will update you all as soon as we have more details," the statement added.
The announcement was swiftly picked up by global media, causing consternation among animal lovers who were outraged by Palmer's killing of Zimbabwe's best-known lion, renowned for his black mane.
But the Friends of Hwange Trust urged the public to treat the ZCTF's announcement with caution.
"Please know that reports stating that Jericho - the other half of Cecil the lion's coalition - was shot today appear to be UNTRUE." The charity admitted however it did not yet have "definite proof" of its counter claim.
Hwange park authorities were unavailable for confirmation Saturday evening. Media reports cited authorities as saying they would confirm if Jericho was still alive on Sunday.
Palmer shot Cecil with a bow and arrow outside Hwange park earlier this month during a hunt that cost him US$55,000 (S$75,500). He and a guide then spent 40 hours tracking the wounded animal before finishing him off with a gun.
Palmer, who is being investigated by the US government over Cecil's death, has apologised and said he was misled by his guide.
But the guide, Theo Bronkhorst, told AFP on Friday that they had "shot an old male lion that I believed was past his breeding age... I don't think that I've done anything wrong".
'Most hated man in America'
Bronkhorst, who was charged this week with "failing to prevent an illegal hunt", said Palmer had taken a photograph with Cecil's body - and claimed both he and the dentist had been "devastated" when they realised Cecil was wearing a collar.
Cecil was a popular tourist draw at the park and was wearing a tracking collar as part of an Oxford University research project.
"Both I and the client were extremely devastated that this thing had a collar on because at no time did we see a collar on this lion prior to shooting it," Bronkhorst told AFP.
"We had done everything above board," he said.
"I don't foresee any jail sentence at all, I think it's been blown out of proportion by social media and I think it's been a deliberate ploy to ban all hunting.
"It has probably changed my family's life, my business, forever... We have had many, many death threats." Zimbabwe called for Palmer's extradition as worldwide outrage over the shooting swelled. US authorities have opened a probe into the killing.
Palmer was branded by US talk show host Jimmy Kimmel as "the most hated man in America" and has been vilified on social media globally.
He has issued a statement expressing regret at the killing but said he had no idea the lion was protected and part of a study and that he thought the hunt was legal.
He has not appeared in public.
Earlier Saturday, Zimbabwe's parks authority announced restrictions on hunting around Hwange park, including an immediate suspension of the hunting of lions, leopards and elephants.