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The Controversial Lion Hunt in Umbabat – South Africa

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1. The Petition

1.1 On the 7th June 2018, a citizen of the United States of America, named in a recent article as Jared Whitworth (see: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2018-07-05-digging-for-the-truth-aboutskye/#.Wz3taNUzbX4), is believed to have paid a very large amount of money to bait and trophy hunt a wild lion in an area that shares an unfenced boundary with the Kruger National Park. The lion was trophy hunted in Umbabat, in an area known as Group 13, on the Western boundary of Kruger National Park.

1.2 There is public concern about this trophy hunt based on a number of issues:

a) The Premise and Objective of the Agreement between SANParks and the private areas adjoining the Kruger National Park (which allowed for the fences to be removed) is “the extension and creation of ecological unity”. As an extension of the KNP private parties should need to abide by the Protected Areas Act which prohibits trophy hunting.

b) Wild animals that are protected in the KNP but then move across imaginary borders and are part of the National Estate and South Africa’s national heritage, are being hunted for profit by private entities.

c) SANParks/Kruger National Park, in an official letter to Umbabat dated 6 February 2018, stated that it did not support its request to trophy hunt a lion. This letter seems to have been ignored.

d) Both the Umbabat Warden, Bryan Havermann and an Mpumalanga official, Riaan De Lange, publicly stated that the lion was baited.

e) Many of the locals believe that the baited and killed lion was a much documented and photographed lion named “Skye”, the dominant male pride leader of the “Western Pride”. Skye has not been seen since the hunt took place.

f) If the dead lion was not Skye, it could very well have been a protected Kruger National Park animal which was baited and killed for profit.

g) As the senior authority along with the MTPA, SANParks and the KNP have a responsibility to provide a safe haven for South Africa’s iconic wild animals since they are deemed a national heritage.

h) The Greater Kruger National Park Hunting Protocol 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.’

i) Every attempt at obtaining full and transparent disclosure from the Umbabat Reserve and from the Mpumalanga authority (the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency) that issued the hunting permit have failed. This included: requests for information on the actual hunt itself; the people involved; visual sight and identification of the lion skin to ascertain which lion was hunted; and details of the permit (including a copy thereof).

j) An Umbabat Private Nature Reserve media release on 12th June stated that “The UPNR does not engage in luring animals from beyond its boundaries for any purpose whatsoever”.

k) Baiting is a form of luring.

l) It appears that offences in terms of the Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) Regulations, 2007 were committed during the hunt.

m) Baiting of lion is permitted in terms of the Mpumalanga Nature Conservation Act (MNCA) provided the permit issued for the hunt specifies it. However baiting of lion is not permitted by the Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) Regulations, 2007, as amended.

n) Lion (panthera leo) is listed as vulnerable in the current lists of critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable and protected species published under section 56 of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act 10 of
2004 (NEM:BA) (see GN151 of 23 February 2007).

o) Regulation 26(1)(b)(i) of the TOPS Regulations provides that an issuing authority may not authorise the hunting of a listed TOPS using bait, except in specified circumstances, none of which apply to the present case.

p) Regulation 73(1)(aA) of the TOPS Regulations makes it an offence to undertake an activity prohibited in terms of regulation 26.

q) If the lion was baited, which has been admitted in public by the person responsible for overseeing the hunt, then it contravened the TOPS Regulations, 2007. More specifically, the hunter committed an offence in terms of regulation 73(1)(aA) of the TOPS Regulations and/or the MNCA has committed an offence in granting the permit in contravention of regulation 73(1)(g) which provides that “a person is guilty of an offence if that person…permits or allows any other person to undertake any restricted activity, which is an offence, in terms of these regulations.”

r) If the hunt was unlawful in any way, then the issuing authority (presumably MTPA in this case) may not issue an export permit for the trophy from the hunt since Regulation 6(3) of the CITES Regulations, 2010 as amended require that an issuing authority may not issue an export permit unless it is satisfied that the specimen was legally acquired. If such a permit has been issued, then it ought to be revoked or at least suspended, since allowing the export of the trophy in terms of such a permit would also contravene Article IV(2)(b) of CITES itself.

s) As there is good reason to believe that the lion that was hunted was not the animal which was specified in the permit. As 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 reason to believe that other offences may have been committed.

1.3 The supporters of this Petition Letter request the Competent Authorities to:

a) Urgently investigate all the circumstances, including the issuing of a trophy hunting permit by the Mpumalanga province, apparently against the initial recommendations from the KNP in February 2018, for the questionable and
controversial hunt of a lion, which seems to have included the baiting of the animal.

b) Make the findings public.

c) Provide proof of which lion was killed and the scientific justification thereof. Place an immediate moratorium on commercial hunting in all the private reserves adjoining the Kruger National Park and where the fences have been
removed, pending an independent and transparent investigation. Ensure that National Park protection and policies apply to areas adjoining national parks where the fences have been removed. Through a transparent public process, urgently review this highly contentious 1996 Agreement between SANParks and the APNR. Stop the export of the lion trophy out of South Africa and the import of the trophy into the US, pending the results of the investigations.

Introduction

Skye has been the dominant pride male of The Western Pride for a number of years. He has been the main attraction for eco tourists and locals alike; he was very habituated to humans in the vicinity, to cars and photographers. He managed to create a very stable pride system, made up of three young cubs, three sub-adult males and six lioness. There was very tight bonding between Skye and all of the Pride members. It’s unusual that he still tolerated the young males as they are well above the age when they normally move off or get chased away from the pride. He was heard making his territorial claims, echoing across the bush, for the last time, on June the 7th.

2.2 He was declared a “high value pride male” for reason of genealogy, pride stability and as a tourist attraction, therefore, it was said, he was not supposed to be hunted.

2.3 Following the hunt of a lion, on the 7th of July, Skye has not be seen again. Locals residents spotted his Pride, without him, on a buffalo kill on Motswari on June the 13. The three cubs were all looking healthy and in good condition and a conservation photographer took pictures of them, while cubs and “mama” were drinking at a waterhole. The following day, the death of one of the cubs was reported. The Pride had been calling for Skye all night – to bring him in to the kill. They called and called. Sadly, this alerted three young male lions that saw an opportunity. They descended on the kill and fought with the three young males and the lionesses. They killed one cub, the lionesses made off with the other two cubs and there was an almighty fight between the remaining males. With Skye still missing, it’s impossible to predict what will become of the remaining cubs and the Pride. In fact, once a dominant male is killed, all his cubs are usually eliminated by other dominant males taking over the pride.

Identification

3.1 The UPNR statement, after the hunt, clarified that “The hunted lion was well past his prime – as per the hunting protocol – and was not a pride lion. The hunted lion had worn down and broken teeth, a protruding spine (all signs of advanced age) and had no evidence of the leucystic gene (i.e. white lion gene).”

3.2 It has been said by locals that the presence of an old lion around was improbable, since the dominant male Skye would have chased him out of his territory.

3.3 Riaan De Lange of the MTPA, who issued the hunting permit, seems to have instructed the taxidermist not to let anyone see it, because “The moment the client pulled the trigger,” he said, “the lion became his property. Consent can only be given by the client.”

3.4 De Lange, has allegedly refused to name the hunter who could give that permission.

3.5 Skye had a very distinctive mark, a double “C” scar on his right rump, with a “C” on top and a reversed “C” just under. This is a very distinctive detail visible in many pictures. Surely would have been very easy to determine if the hunted male was him or not.

3.6 In any case, even if the hunted lion was not Skye, it could very well have been a protected Kruger National Park who was baited and killed for profit.

Baiting

4.1 Bryan Havemann, former Chairman of the IUCN Regional Committee and warden at Umbabat, seems to have initially reassured the Ingwelala Chairman and Board stating “the target being an elderly male lion that often encroached into the north-eastern section of Umbabat from KNP”.

4.2 He, then, confirmed that the hunted lion was “baited with bait provided by an elephant and buffalo hunt, which took place beforehand in the Private Reserve”; 

4.3 In the following UPNR media release on 12th June, is said “The UPNR does not engage in luring animals from beyond its boundaries for any purpose whatsoever”. This seems to be a contradiction.

4.4 The Mpumalanga Nature Conservation Act No 10 of 1998 (commenced 1 Jan 1999), Chapter 2 Section 13 (1) (b), describes “luring” and “baiting” as follows:

Luring is
(i) a simulation / or recording of the natural sound made by an animal,
(ii) a sound made by man,
(iii) baiting;

4.5 Baiting is therefore a form of luring.

Baiting of lion is permitted in terms of the Mpumalanga Nature Conservation Act (MNCA) provided the permit issued for the hunt specifies it. However baiting of lion is not permitted by the Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) Regulations, 2007, as amended.

4.6 Lion (panthera leo) is listed as vulnerable in the current lists of critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable and protected species published under section 56 of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act 10 of 2004 (NEM:BA) (see GN151 of 23 February 2007).

4.7 Regulation 26(1)(b)(i) of the TOPS Regulations provides that an issuing authority may not authorise the hunting of a listed TOPS using bait, except in specified circumstances, none of which apply to the present case.

4.8 Regulation 73(1)(aA) of the TOPS Regulations makes it an offence to undertake an activity prohibited in terms of regulation 26.

4.9 If the lion was baited, then it contravened the TOPS Regulations, 2007. More specifically, the hunter committed an offence in terms of regulation 73(1)(aA) of the TOPS Regulations and/or the MNCA has committed an offence in granting the permit in contravention of regulation 73(1)(g) which provides that “a person is guilty of an offence if that person…permits or allows any other person to undertake any restricted activity, which is an offence, in terms of these regulations.”

The Age of the Lion

5.1 The Greater Kruger National Park Hunting Protocol 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 was a pride male, younger than 8, so if he is the lion who was shot, this would constitute a permit violation.

5.2 Every attempt at obtaining full and transparent disclosure from the Umbabat Reserve and from the Mpumalanga authority (the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency) that issued the hunting permit have failed. This included: requests for information on the actual hunt itself; the people involved; visual sight and identification of the lion skin to ascertain which lion was hunted; and details of the permit (including a copy thereof).

The Permits

6.1 In the Ingwelala Chairman’s letter to members, dated 6 June 2018, therefore before the hunt and after the meeting, the following was written:
“The Warden advised the Board that the target is an elderly male lion that often encroached into the north-eastern section of the Umbabat from the KNP, and steps have been taken to increase the probability of the target lion being identified and located. The Warden understood our concerns regarding the risk of the dominant male of the Western Pride being shot and indicated his willingness to prevent this from happening.”

6.2 The UPNR claims that before a hunting permit is issued, “a rigorous process of assessment and adjudication takes place. Animals are counted, studies are compiled, experts are consulted, reserve management practices are scrutinised and assessed, needs are considered whether appropriate, and only thereafter, will the authorities
consider issuing a permit to hunt”.

Read full report: Skye-Report 16718 def

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