Was a protected lion killed in a baited hunt?

Photographer Charlie Lynam believes that the animal killed in a trophy hunt was Skye, a member of the protected Western Pride of the Kruger National Park.

The Western Pride Lion, Skye. Source: Charlie Lynam

JOHANNESBURG - Controversy surrounds the hunting of a lion in a reserve near the Kruger Park in June.

Both the identity of the lion and the manner in which it was hunted are being questioned.

Photographer Charlie Lynam believes that the animal killed in a trophy hunt was Skye, a member of the protected Western Pride of the Kruger National Park whom he has followed and captured in numerous images.

On 7 June 2018, a lion was hunted near Ingwelala, a privately owned nature reserve situated within the Umbabat Private Nature Reserve, which borders the unfenced Kruger National Park and Timbavati Private Nature Reserve.

Lynam says Skye has not been seen since June and he, therefore, believes he was the lion killed during the trophy hunt.

On 5 July 2018, the Ingwelala board issued a statement on their website, indicating that an investigative task team was created to look into the matter.

The investigative team was made up of Ingwelala directors Andrew Hauptfleisch, Brian Cilliers and Belinda Scott who met with representatives of the Umbabat.

They studied pictures of what they accepted to be Skye taken by Lynam up until April 2018.

The task team found that due to a "balance of probabilities" in their view and based on photographic evidence – the lion that was shot during the authorised hunt was not the same lion as in Lynam’s photographs.

They found that the lion that was shot had a "tatty right ear with two large U-shaped nicks out of it, whereas the western pride male’s ear had no injuries."

Speaking to Eyewitness News, Lynam says he was not permitted to view or examine the photographic evidence of the lion that was shot, nor was he invited to the investigating team despite his “sizeable and comprehensive database”.

He adds that “ear nicks, U-shaped or otherwise are not definitive.”

The most recent picture by Lynam presented to the board was taken in April 2018. He says it is perfectly feasible that Skye may have sustained ear injuries between April and June.

“Whisker patterns, spots and teeth are all accurate and definitive. None of the above were referenced in the board announcement,” Lynam added.

Hauptfleisch, the chairperson of Ingwelala, said he was not able to comment on the issue of the date of photographs and that he did not wish to be interviewed.

EWN got in touch with investigative journalist Don Pinnock, who received an anonymous tip-off after the hunt.

He was told that: “The outfitter and professional hunter was Graham Sales, the US hunter was Jared Whitworth from Hardingsburg, Kentucky. Riaan de Lange was the MTPA [Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency] official who issued the permit. The hunt was marketed to the client as a hunt where baiting was allowed.”

Pinnock left a message with both Sales and Whitworth for comment or rebuttal but received no replies.

EWN also tried to make contact with Graham Sales who did not respond to emails or WhatsApp messages.

Meanwhile, animal rights group EMS Foundation says it’s planning a case against the MTPA as it alleges the hunt was advertised as a baited hunt, with baiting currently illegal in South Africa.

EMS Foundation director Michele Pickover has told EWN that: “We’ve taken some legal action already because the lion was baited - and that has been admitted by Mpumalanga (Tourism and Parks Agency), Riaan De Lange and the people at Umbabat. And in terms of Threatened and Protected Species (TOS) legislation, you’re not allowed to bait a lion – you can, only under specific circumstances. None of which apply in this case.”

EWN contacted de Lange and the MTPA. The MTPA refused to be interviewed and stated that internal processes were followed, while de Lange said he was not authorised to respond.

Meanwhile in a statement, the Umbabat Private Nature Reserve (UPNR) said all the requirements stipulated in the Greater Kruger Hunting Protocol are adhered to by the reserve.

“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. Regarding the identity of the hunted lion, it was reported that a named pride male has been hunted – this statement is also incorrect. Meetings were held before any hunting took place, with photographs being shared of the lion that was not to be hunted … These photos act as a specific guideline to assist the hunting party to take all reasonable steps to prevent the hunt of an identified male lion, so as not to disrupt pride dynamics in the region. In comparing the post-hunting pictures, it was concluded from the facial features and scars, that the hunted lion was not the same as the lion portrayed in the earlier provided pictures.

“It has also been reported that the UPNR ‘lured’ a lion from the KNP to hunt it. During the 2017 predator census, there were no less than three lion pride and 37 hyenas assessed over a period of only 2 nights in the UPNR. The UPNR does not engage in luring animals from beyond its boundaries for any purpose whatsoever. 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).”

Canned lion hunting is currently being debated in parliament with the EMS Foundation fighting for canned hunting to be banned.

_Photographs courtesy of Charlie Lynam _