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Second Cecil the lion cub killed by rival big cat

Another of Cecil the lion’s young cubs is feared to have been killed by a predatory big cat after he disappeared.

Guides at Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park discovered the youngster missing this week after a former male rival of Cecil called Bubesi was seen prowling the territory.

It has sparked widespread fears for the remaining six cubs after their father - known for his rare black mane - was slain on a trophy hunt.

Experts warn the tiny pride – originally made up of three lionesses and eight cubs – has only a five per cent chance of survival after several solitary male lions were spotted prowling near their abandoned den in Hwange National Park.

A respected source at the park said: “Cecil’s pride which was down to seven is now only six as a cub has been killed.

"Although it is unclear as to what is responsible. Bubesi has been into the area a few times and appears to be looking to expand his territory. Lions practise infanticide - this was always the fear for these cubs. It is extremely hard for them to ever grow up to adulthood. If Bubesi has serious intentions to take over the territory he will not want the other cubs.”

The pride has become the focus of worldwide attention after the July 1 killing of Cecil during a hunt by American dentist Walter Palmer sparked worldwide outrage. They were being protected by another large male called Jericho who ran the pride with Cecil until his death. But the lion, who has since deserted the pride, was spotted in the area this week - as our exclusive picture shows.

One of the lionesses has been fitted with a Global Positioning System collar by Oxford University’s conservation unit, which had also been monitoring Cecil. It allows lion experts to track her movements through the African bush.

The source said: “The whole park has been saddened by this further death. The pride was seen this week and one of the cubs was missing. “There is a sense that this will only end badly and that the tragedy of Cecil’s killing just carries on.”

Zimbabwe has requested the extradition of Palmer, 55 – who claims he believed the hunt, run by guide Theo Bronkhorst, was legal. He shot Cecil with a crossbow after the lion had been lured to killing grounds away from the government-protected park. Bronkhorst, 52 – charged with failing to prevent an illegal hunt – denies any wrongdoing on the expedition with Minnesota-based Palmer and will face trial later this month.

His maximum sentence, if found guilty of setting up the illegal kill, is said to be a £260 fine or a year in prison. The dentist paid Sh 5.6 million (£35,000) to kill the lion and have his head returned to the states to be mounted as a trophy.

The fee would have included a 14-day stay and the “trophy” fee for killing the lion – which should have been paid to the National Parks Authority in Zimbabwe, and he would have brought his own weapons and ammunition for the trip.

As well as lions, Palmer hunted cheetahs and elephants – and is said to keep a “hunting shrine” back home in rural Pelican Rapids, US. His initial shot was with a compound crossbow, which has a pulley system meant to make it more powerful and accurate.

But Palmer failed to kill Cecil outright, and the lion evaded him for a further 40 agonising hours.

Investigators are still trying to locate the GPS collar worn by Cecil – despite recovering his head and body, which have been taken away to an undisclosed storage unit.