REMEMBERING SKYE – THE LEADER OF THE WESTERN PRIDE OF LIONS IN THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK

“Trophy Hunting is a form of selective elimination of the strongest members of a pride, based on whatever distinction has been accepted in the hunting fraternity.”  DAVID MABUNDA

The Umbabat Nature Reserve is a privately owned nature reserve situated adjacent to the Kruger National Park on the bank of the Nhlaralumi River in the Bushbuckridge Municipality in Mpumalanga Province, it is one of the Associated Private Nature Reserves. 

In a statement made in 2018, the management of the Umbabat Nature Reserve confirmed their participation in the practise of trophy hunting. This practise, they said, was guided by the Greater Kruger Hunting Protocol.  

The permits for trophy hunting, the Umbabat Management confirmed, are issued by, after vigorous consultation with the management of Kruger National Park and the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency. 

Despite these assurances, in 2018, members of the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs were concerned that ten years after the promulgation of the amended TOPS regulations in 2008, that the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency were still not compliant.  The Portfolio Committee were especially concerned about non-compliance relating to the hunting of listed species in the regulations such as lions. 

On the 7th of June 2018 a large male lion was killed in the Umbabat Associated Private Nature Reserve of the Kruger National Park by an American hunter, Jared Whitworth, he allegedly paid the sum of 1 million rand.

Skye the dominant pride lion lived in the Umbabat section of the Kruger National Park, he was well-known and well-loved by international and local eco and photographic tourists alike. He disappeared on the 7th of June 2018, he was never seen again. 

The management of Umbabat and the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Authority refused to provide any documentation about the hunt. The international and national outcry following the media reports about this hunt resulted in an enquiry held by the Portfolio Committee for Environmental Affairs in August 2018. 

Those involved in the trophy killing of the lion said that the lion, described the lion as:  “well past his prime, he was not a pride lion, the hunted lion had worn down and broken teeth, a protruding spine”. Yet, the Mpumalanaga Tourism and Parks Agency refused access to the dead lion.  A transparent process and identification would have dispelled the global outcry and subsequent investigation.

An experienced, independent ecologist, Jason Turner, examined an image of the hunted lion issued by the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency, and confirmed that the dead lion in the image had a number of definitive and unique identification facial scars characteristics. These included nose and eye scars. Charlie Lynam, a wildlife photographer and share block owner in the Umbabat Associated Private Nature Reserve also examined and identified the lion as Skye because of nose and eye scars. 

The EMS Foundation continued to seek answers from the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE), who confirmed that: 

  • there are no fences between the APNR and the Kruger National Park;
  • the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency provided the permit to kill the lion; 
  • the lion was bated

DFFE did not inspect the “trophy” at the port of exit.

According to DFFE: “We had planned to conduct an inspection of the hunting client’s consignment once it was presented at the Compliance Office at Oliver Tambo International Airport for the endorsement of the CITES permit.  Unfortunately, we were not informed, despite sending a number of requests, by the Compliance Office and the consignment left South Africa without the enforcement officials inspecting the consignment.”

In a recent Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) request to DFFE from the EMS Foundation, DFFE confirmed that the body parts of the lion we believe to be Skye left South Africa via Oliver Tambo International Airport on Turkish Airways on the 24th August, destination San Francisco.   

It is likely that there was a cover-up right until the end because the permit – number 171120 – was only for the “skull and full skin” and not a “full mount”. Does it mean that bragging rights were foregone in order to avoid verification?  

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