Beloved lions now trophy hunter targets

By Adam Cruise

An extraordinary cat and mouse game is being played out in Mpumalanga over the baiting and shooting of what could be a much-loved Umbabat Reserve pride male lion named Skye.

Since the commercial hunt of the lion on June 7 was discovered, attempts to establish full details from the reserve – which neighbours Kruger National Park – and the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) about what happened have proved difficult.

In the picture: The shooting of a lion in the Umbabat reserve in Mpumalanga has caused a furore, with authorities insisting the animal shot wasn’t the much-loved big cat, Skye. Picture: Colin Bell/Conservation Action Trust

Withheld by journalists

A day after the hunt, an anonymous source disclosed the name of the hunter, the hunt outfitter, the warden who accompanied them and the taxidermist to which the skin was taken. But being a single source without secondary verification, these names are being withheld by journalists.

I was denied permission to view the skin at Life Form Taxidermy in White River by Riaan De Lange of the MTPA which issued the hunting permit. He had instructed the taxidermist not to let anyone see it. His reasoning was that permission to view it was not his or the MTPA’s to give.

“The moment the client pulled the trigger,” he said, “the lion became his property. Consent [to view]can only be given by the client.” He refused to name the hunter.

Why the secrecy?

Journalists have been told that it was “an old lion, older that eight years” but nobody is being allowed to confirm this. Elise Tempelhof of Die Beeld noted that if it was an old, single male, why the secrecy?

De Lange produced a photocopied image of the face of a dead lion that was clearly not Skye, but would not hand it over for further verification. He admitted that he “could show a picture of any dead lion”.

File picture of a lion in the wild: Photo by Amar Yashlaha on Unsplash

Skye had half the incisors on his lower jaw missing, a scar under his eye and a two very particular scars on his rump, but De Lange said the hunter only had this one picture to go on which did not show the lion’s teeth or the distinctive scars on his rump.

He said the hunting permit included permission to bait the lion, which is not normally allowed, but that it was done to allow the hunter to make sure he and the accompanying professional hunter could identify the correct lion to shoot.

But he added: “It’s a pity we didn’t have more pictures. If the hunter had other pictures, then there would be no excuse, but he only had this one, so one can’t blame him if he did shoot Skye.”

This vagueness flies in the face of the Greater Kruger National Park Hunting Protocol. Skye was under eight, so if he was shot it would constitute a permit violation.

De Lange confirmed that the hunting permit was for a single male lion that was not part of a pride, so if the lion was Skye it constitutes another permit violation.

Rival male lion

On May 27, before the hunt, the MTPA along with the Brian Haveman, the Umbabat warden, met with the Ingwelala Board to address their concerns that the lion targeted could be Skye. As a pride male, there were fears that his offspring would be killed by a rival male lion should he be killed. The board was assured they would make every effort not to hunt Skye.

Haveman, as well as the reserve’s vice chairman, Theo Van Wyk, have insisted the lion shot was not Skye but “an elderly male lion that often encroached into the north-eastern section of the Umbabat from the Kruger”.

More on this story

This means that, even if the dead lion is not Skye, it could be a protected Kruger Park animal. As the senior authority along with the MTPA in the Greater Kruger Hunting Protocol, the Kruger Park has a responsibility to provide a safe haven for South Africa’s iconic wild animals since they are deemed a national heritage.

Dr Paul Funston of the Lion and Cheetah Programme and a director of Panthera, has written that “to be sustainable (achieve stable lion populations and maximum harvests), trophy hunting should harvest lions in southern Africa older than eight years.

The social nature of lions and common use of infanticide means that lion populations are greatly impacted by the loss of males. This may be going on in Umbabat right now. – Article Courtesy Conservation Action Trust

** Adam Cruise is a published travel writer, photographer, adventurer and student in philosophy specialising in environmental ethics. He specialises, and is passionate about, the environment and the impact humans are currently having on the natural resources throughout the sub-continent.

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