Citizen (South Africa)

Photo for illustration only.

Photo for illustration only.

On Monday, Umbabat Private Nature Reserve released an official media statement with the hope of setting the record straight on the matter.

A controversial lion hunt that attracted international media attention took place on a private reserve outside of Hoedspruit on Thursday, June 7, Letaba Herald reports.

The hunt fell under the spotlight after the article, which went viral on social media, included content with rather harsh allegations made against the game reserve in terms of the nature of the hunt.

On Monday, Umbabat Private Nature Reserve (UPNR) released an official media statement with the hope of setting the record straight on the matter.

Trophy hunting does and always will stir up extremely raw emotions for people on both sides of the argument.

In this particular case, the language used in the publication was emotional, ambiguous and designed only with the intent to stir anger among its readers.

Initial allegations suggested the hunt had been conducted illegally, to which the UPNR responded: “All hunting in the UPNR is governed by National and Provincial law, and is further guided by the Greater Kruger Hunting Protocol, which is a well-defined document compiled by representatives and experts from the KNP [Kruger National Park], State, Province and private. All the requirements stipulated in the hunting protocol are adhered to by the UPNR.

“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. Often the process of issuing a permit to hunt is subject to several interactions and communications between experts.”

The Lowvelder Newspaper contacted media specialist of SANParks Isaac Phaahla for comment on the allegation of the hunt being conducted illegally. Phaahla responded they were not an authority that allows or gives permits for the hunting of animals, nor were they responsible for the monitoring of such activities, and therefore it would be wrong of them to comment on the matter.

“The relevant authority that has overall responsibility is the MTPA. SANParks would like to urge those who have evidence of wrongdoing, to present evidence to the MTPA so that all those matters can be investigated,” he said.

“There are protocols and regulations that have to be followed by all reserves and areas open to the KNP, and this is guided by the policy framework on sustainable use or animal off takes for legal hunting,” he concluded.

The media publication made suggestions that the hunted male may have been the leader of the Western Pride named Skye, beloved of many tourists.

UPNR, in their media statement, clarified that this is not so. “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.”

The news article further made allegations that the lion may been lured onto the private game reserve from the Kruger. “It is probable the lion was lured out of Kruger Park with bait provided by an elephant and buffalo hunt, which took place beforehand.”

In response, UPNR issued the following statement: “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 prides 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 UPNR statement also clarified the state of health that the hunted lion was in when it was shot: “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).”

This, therefore, negates the allegation in the article that the hunted lions cubs will now be killed by another male taking over the pride.

The effective and sustainable management of any private game reserve is complex and often, decisions are made that will, inevitably, upset a lot of people.

Publications that sensationalise such topics and make them out to be far worse than they are, do so irresponsibly with one goal in mind, ‘click bait.’

The fact remains that a lion was shot by a trophy hunter, but the nature of the hunt is, in reality, very different than what was portrayed in the news article.

It is difficult for those armed only with a computer keyboard, sitting on the other side of the world, to form any opinion other than those that they are fed from such publications.

It is likely that Umbabat’s statement will not receive such interest from the public. It is simply not ‘juicy’ enough.