Skye is the limit – the kruger lion hunt saga continues

Skye is the limit – the kruger lion hunt saga continues
Skye is the limit - the kruger lion hunt saga continues
Skye the Lion – shot at Umbabat Nature Reserve – Charlie Laynam

SKYE is the limit

Outrage, secrecy, abomination, controversy, suspicion, and cat and mouse game, are some of the verbalisations around the events linked to the lion hunt in the Umbabat Private Nature Reserve bordering Kruger National Park (KNP), of what is believed to be Skye, leader of the Western pride.

Many of you will feel jaded by the continued stories around this one lion. However, the narrative is not necessarily just about one lion. This story is about the many unanswered questions and the lack of transparency and accountability around the events that took place pre-hunt, during the hunt, and post-hunt.

It is about the free migration of KNP wildlife into the Associated Private Nature Reserves (APNR). Free migration of national assets that form part of our natural heritage. Wildlife that receives protection under the Protected Areas Act (2003) (PAA) from trophy hunting in the KNP, but not in the ANPR.

The PAA states that “all animals occurring in a national park are….deemed to be public assets held in trust by the State for the benefit of the present and future generations….”. The act further describes that these animals are not only public assets within our national parks but remain public assets even when they leave the parks.

In February 2018, SANParks KNP informed Umbabat they will not support the requested off-take for among others one lion, based on census wildlife numbers, sustainability and governance issues.

Skye is the limit - the kruger lion hunt saga continues
Skye the Lion with cubs @Charlie Lynam

Later that month, Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) approved the Umbabat proposed hunting quota for 2018, including one male lion older than 5 yrs.

Subsequently, MTPA issues a hunting permit for one lion, marked as a hunt where baiting is allowed. Several official requests to view this permit have been made post-hunt to no avail.

Michel Pickover (Director EMS Foundation) says they contacted Glenn Phillips (Managing Executive SANParks KNP) post-hunt “to confirm, as a matter of urgency, that the KNP did not change its mind and grant permission to Umbabat to kill a lion”. In response, Ike Phaahla (SANParks Media Specialist) states that they “make recommendations, but that does not prescribe to the issuing authority and they have the final say”.

Pre-hunt, other shareholders in the Umbabat PNR wanted reassurance from Bryan Havemann (Umbabat warden) that the dominant male lion of the Western Pride (called Skye) would not be the target of this hunt. Skye was identified as a “high-value pride male” for reasons of genealogy, pride stability and from an eco-tourism perspective.

The Ingwelala share block (non-hunting properties) raised concerns over the safety of Skye’s offspring (infanticide) and the negative impact it would have on the wildlife recreational experience of the whole of Ingwelala, if Skye was shot.

At the time, Havemann assured the target of the hunt was not Skye, but an elderly male lion that often encroached into the north-eastern section of the Umbabat from KNP and steps were being taken to increase the probability of this elderly lion being shot by baiting.

Skye was easily identifiable by two distinctive S-shaped scars on his right rump and scarring under his right eye.

Skye is the limit - the kruger lion hunt saga continues
Skye – @ Charlie Lynam

On 7th June 2018, an American hunter is believed to have paid R1 million to shoot a Kruger male lion in Umbabat with still unconfirmed reports suggesting it was Skye. The last sighting of Skye was on this very day.

Havemann has been evasive ever since the hunt. He admits it was a lion hunt using the carcasses of a buffalo and elephant as bait, both killed on the same hunt. In some instances, he seems to be aware of Skye’s identity and other times he is not, whereas clear identifying images were presented to him pre-hunt.

An Ingwelala member met with Havemann days after the hunt, during which the latter confirmed to have inspected the hunted lion. Upon further questioning, Havemann claims to have only seen the left rump and not the distinctive scar on his right.

Nevertheless, Havemann insists it was not Skye, but the target elderly male. Yet, among the photos of all the known male lions in the area, provided by Motswari Lodge pre-hunt, there is no lion of such description nor have there been any recorded sightings in the area.

We need to ask the simple question, if indeed an elderly lion was hunted, why not be transparent and allow the skin to be inspected? This would surely put an end to all speculation? I contacted Havemann on several occasions and he declined the opportunity to comment.

There also seem to be violations of the Greater KNP Hunting Protocol as well as national legislation. The Hunting Protocol states that “hunting should be conducted according to set rules to ensure that the spirit of fair chase is honored”. Using bait neither consists of an ethical hunt nor fair chase.

On the 20th June 2018, Riaan de Lange (Head of Professional Hunting, MTPA) tells Adam Cruise in an interview: “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.” Yet another inconsistency, as we know that many identification photos were made available pre-hunt.

However, if indeed the hunt took place based on one photo, this further contravenes the Hunting Protocol, which states that “reasonable steps should be taken to gain knowledge of the males with pride affiliations and their ages, thereby ensuring that pride males under the age of 8 years are not selected”.

Skye is the limit - the kruger lion hunt saga continues
Skye the Lion watching over his territory – @ Charlie Lyman

Furthermore, Skye was believed to be younger than 8 years and, if he was shot, this would constitute another violation of the Hunting Protocol.

Cullinan & Associates (Environmental Attorneys) believe there are potential violations of the Threatened Or Protected Species (TOPS) Regulations 2007, which provides that the issuing authority (MTPA in this case) may not authorize the hunting of a listed TOPS using bait.

Baiting is however allowed under the Mpumalanga Nature Conservation Act (1998) – one of the two provinces in South Africa that are not TOPS compliant. This obviously creates a conflict between national and provincial legislation.

Cullinan & Associates argues that conflict of this nature is dealt with in our Constitution and TOPS Regulations should prevail when it comes to the killing of a listed TOPS species. They say “the survival of the whole species in South Africa requires a uniform approach and cannot be dealt with effectively by each province making their own laws”.

Cullinan & Associates asked the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) in a recent letter to take urgent action by looking into this potentially illegal lion hunt.

They conclude their letter to the DEA as follows, “there is a good reason to believe that the lion that was hunted was not the animal which was specified in the permit. Our client and other concerned individuals have been denied the opportunity to inspect the skin despite repeated requests, from which only an adverse inference may be drawn. There is thus a reason to believe that other offenses may have been committed.”

DEA promised to undertake a full investigation, including whether or not the lion hunt was lawful and the correct lion was hunted, and, if necessary, take appropriate action.

In light of this investigation, I asked de Lange (MTPA) whether or not he has granted the hunter an export permit for the trophy. He replied a “PAIA request may be the way to go”.

Earlier last week, Albi Modise (DEA Chief Director of Communications) told me that a draft investigation report is currently under review, but that this will not be made public. “At this stage, there is no evidence that any offenses were committed in the execution of this hunt”, Modise continued.

Nearly 30 NGOs with the support of 139,000 global citizens asked SANParks some very pertinent questions in an attempt to create more transparency around the hunt.

SANParks’ response has been evasive, hiding firmly behind their mandate of the KNP only. Phaahla concluded his response that “in the spirit of transparency and open communication, you [29 organizations] are urged to follow the formal engagement routes by consulting with the issuing authorities MTPA, LEDET, with DEA, and with the Private reserve representatives”, clearly another attempt to divert the responsibility to other authorities.

A representative of those 29 animal welfare organizations, Stefania Falcon (Future4Wildlife), told me that they followed up with all the authorities involved on many occasions, but were met by a wall of silence. “The stakeholders are clearly ignoring public inputs and consultations, as well as petitions signed by many global citizens”, she said.

Nonetheless, SANParks KNP doesn’t seem happy with the whole deplorable situation. Glenn Phillips stated in a recent email that “if Umbabat does not sort out their governance issues, they will re-erect the fence” with KNP. An external source says that “Umbabat has been given six months to get their house in order and to ensure that a new Hunting Protocol is signed with KNP”.

Now more than ten weeks since the hunt, all the evidence is stacking against the survival of Skye. Sightings in Umbabat suggest that the Western Pride is breaking up in the absence of its leader.

Among the many unanswered questions, remains one central issue of national importance. If all animals occurring in a national park are deemed under the PAA to be public assets, even when they occur outside of a national park, would the public not have the right for more consultation and transparency?

By Dr Louise de Waal

 

Skye is the Limit – The Kruger Lion Hunt Saga Continues

Skye the Lion – Call to Action

Skye the Lion – Call to Action
Opinion post: Written by Simon Espley, CEO of Africa Geographic
Skye the lion by Charlie Lynam
Skye the lion by Charlie Lynam

Skye the lion call to action

The highly controversial shooting of Skye the Lion by a trophy hunter in the Umbabat section of the Greater Kruger could conceivably mark the beginning of the end for trophy hunting in this part of Africa. I am speculating here, but please hear me out…

Since we reported the known facts about the hunt, I and many others have been digging for clarity. Was the hunted lion indeed ‘Skye’? – a dominant male of the Western Pride, featured in this tribute ‘The Story of Skye’ by Charlie Lynam, a shareholder in Ingwelala, one of the properties making up Umbabat. The photos accompanying this opinion editorial are of Skye and his pride.

The trophy hunting team insist that the lion killed was not Skye the pride male, claiming that he was in fact an old male lion with worn teeth and a protruding spine. But they refuse point blank to supply a photo of the dead lion to prove their claim, citing legal and personal safety concerns. Lynam and others insist that Skye the pride male was killed. According to Lynam, Skye has not been seen since the day of the killing of that lion. Additionally, one of his cubs has since been killed and some of the pride lionesses have been beaten up as a new coalition of males has moved into the area. This is classic lion behavior when a dominant male is removed and new male/s move into the vacuum – cubs are killed (infanticide) and lionesses are beaten up as they try to defend their cubs.

The Lion Skye with two cubs
The Lion Skye with two cubs @ Charlie Lynam

Recently activist Don Pinnock, who broke the story, has revealed that the hunter in question is an American by the name of Jared Whitworth, from Hardinsburg, Kentucky. He also revealed the names of the South African hunting outfitter who sold and managed the hunt and the government official who signed off on the lion permit. Whitworth is a member of Safari Club International (SCI), which defines hunting success in terms of size and rarity. Apparently the larger the horns/tusks and rarer the animal, the more respect you are due for killing it. Whitworth’s 15-year-old daughter was awarded the title “2018 SCI Young Hunter of the Year”, and the SCI website features her proudly posing with a massive buffalo she killed. I found this out by visiting the SCI website a few days ago – and note with interest that today those pages have been removed (fortunately I saved a screenshot). Are the SCI members now afraid of the tree-huggers? Perhaps they should be …

And here, ladies and gentlemen, is where I start reasoning why I believe that trophy hunting will soon end in the Greater Kruger.

As I write this, an investigative agency has been hired to look into the legality of the Skye hunt, there is a popular online petition calling for justice, and various people are digging away to find out the personal information of everyone involved. Momentum is building, and I hear that the guilty parties are shaking in their boots. Anyone remember what happened to Walter Palmer, the American dentist who shot Cecil the Lion, once his name was known to the public?

Let me be blunt: Do trophy hunters really think that they can keep these things secret in this day and age, and do they and their families feel safe knowing that their deeds will be in the public domain sooner or later? I understand from sources that the southern African trophy hunting industry is already suffering from cancellations because of increased public scrutiny and vigilantism.

Skye the Lion watching over his territory at Kruger Park
Skye the Lion watching over his territory

Beyond the hunter and the hunting outfitter, what about the other people involved – the government officials and game reserve management? How long before these people decide that they are not prepared to take the risk and stress of being associated with this industry that specializes in surgically removing the last-remaining big-gene animals? Many of these people are simply ordinary employees, who signed up to be involved in conservation and now find themselves defending an industry they don’t even believe in, and being subjected to personal abuse and threats of physical violence.

We are increasingly seeing government departments and officials being targeted by a tidal wave of emotional backlash against trophy hunting. The fact that much of the commentary is factually inaccurate is beside the point – this is a battle of emotion, not fact. The anger generated amongst the social media-empowered general public, driven by activists who value impact over fact, is a toxic cocktail that will drive change – regardless of the consequences. Recently the Namibian government issued a ruling that trophy hunters to that country cannot publish kill photos on social media. This bizarre and unenforceable move is surely a testament to the extent of the pressure that is being brought to bear on the trophy hunting industry.

Anti-hunting activists are evolving, and increasingly now combining their immense social media support base with targeted action against specific perpetrators. On the other hand, the trophy hunting industry does not have the DNA to evolve. They are still barking out the same defensive rhetoric from decades ago – despite the conservation landscape having shifted massively under the immense pressure of habitat loss and poaching. This industry will never be driven by ethics and transparency; it is entirely opportunistic and known to retrofit the conservation argument based on the specifics of the particular animal hunted.

In the court of public opinion, we are all judged by the company we keep, and the partners we choose. In my opinion, if management of the Greater Kruger does not change tack and distance itself from their trophy hunting partners, this tremendous conservation initiative will self-destruct. Members of the Greater Kruger simply cannot any longer risk being associated with an industry that refuses to evolve, and regularly shoots itself in the foot. Quite simply, they have to dissociate themselves or face eventual ruin.

Skye the Lion shot at Umbabat by an American hunter after been lured out of Kruger Park
Skye the Lion shot at Umbabat

And that is why I believe that it is only a matter of time before trophy hunting ceases to be a management tool in the Greater Kruger.

Of course, the landowners and managers of these wildlife reserves will consequently need to source alternative funding for their rapidly escalating anti-poaching and general conservation costs. Photographic tourism can provide some of the extra funding, but not all of it. Even if all parties agree to higher lodge and vehicle densities (with concomitant increased environmental pressure) and higher lodge prices, not all areas in the Greater Kruger have the same tourism potential – this is a simple fact based on location, carrying capacity and biodiversity. Many of the most vocal social media activists have never been on safari in Africa, and are unlikely ever to. But hopefully, they will donate to a fund to enable anti-poaching work in the Greater Kruger to continue.

I suspect that some landowners, especially the local communities, will seriously consider alternative land uses such as livestock and crops, once trophy hunting is off the table. There are few straight roads in Africa.

Some pro-hunting folk will refuse to acknowledge advice like mine if it does not come accompanied by instant iron-clad alternatives to hunting. With respect, this is like refusing to accept that your daughter is pregnant, just because she won’t tell you who the father is. The first step to solving a problem is to acknowledge that you have a problem.

I have great faith that in time trophy hunting in the Greater Kruger will be replaced by a more ethical, more relevant sustainable land-use strategy. This will take time, but it will happen. A luta continua!

CALL TO ACTION:
Please have your say on the lion bone quota and the killing of Skye the lion in South Africa and submit your comment to the Chairperson of the Colloquium in Parliament, Cape Town. The debate will focus precisely on these two controversial topics and we ask you to support our participation!

The Colloquium will start on Tuesday, August the 21st 2018 at 8.00 so, please, send your message before Monday.

Please write to
pmapulane@parliament.gov.za, the Chair, and briefly/clearly state:

  • Demand justice for Skye the lion and his pride, after he was baited out of the Kruger and shot in June in a private reserve.
  • If you approve or not the captive lion industry and the lion bone trading in South Africa
  • If you agree or not on the practice of hunting around the unfenced boundary of the Kruger Park.
  • Indicate which country are you from and if you will continue to visit South Africa and its Parks after realizing how this country exploits its iconic animals and natural resources.

If you want, you can also:

  • Suggest that the truth over the illegal trading in lion bones due to corruption is emerging and creating outrage worldwide.
  • Comment if trophy hunting is/ is not, in your opinion, essential for the conservation of eco-systems and wildlife in South Africa