Of the mere 20,000 to 30,000 lions left in the wild, males comprise 12 to 15 percent of that number, says Joubert. Which leads to his sobering estimate that only 3,500 of these dominant male lions roam Africa. (For some perspective, 3,500 people can fit into spectator seating at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, NY.)
Which means that every Cecil matters. A lot. However, says Joubert, the reality is that what happened to Cecil isn't uncommon: "At least 24 other lions we know of have been killed like [he was], with [tracking] collars," says Joubert.
Hunters often claim they purposely target male lions who are old or past their breeding prime. But Joubert disagrees with this excuse for a kill: "Many male lions live until they are 15 (Cecil was reportedly 13 when he was killed). A decade ago, scientists thought that any lion over 6 years old was past breeding prime. I opposed this theory because many lions we have known have been mating up to the very end, at 15."
"Cecil," he says, "had some years to go."