South Africa


Kruger Lions: Hunting for Skye and the truth

White lioness Tia and white lion Aga play with their 10-week-old cubs in their enclosure at a private zoo in Dvorec, Czech Republic, 14 July 2017. EPA/MARTIN DIVISEK

Killing is not about conservation but about pleasure, money and a neocolonial need to dominate the world and its inhabitants.

This is in response to Kruger lions: Who really cares about conservation by Peter Flack.

Let’s get this straight. The gratuitous killing of wild animals for pleasure and profit under the guise of conservation is not only highly contested and refutable, but is at the heart of the public outrage over the trophy killing of a male lion on the borders of the Kruger National Park last week.

We do not yet know if the hunted male was Skye, the dominant pride lion in Umbabat Private Reserve. However, suspicion is at fever pitch as he has not been seen since the hunt on 7 June.

This is being fuelled by both Umbabat and the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Authority failing to say which lion was hunted, how, by whom and who the “outfitter” was.

None of the protagonists has come forward and their silence is damning. The parks authority has ignored a legal demand for a copy of the permit and access to the skin to verify the identity of the lion killed. They have also been asked not to issue a permit for the export of any trophy resulting from the hunt.

The key debate, though, is the role SANParks is playing. Although the Protected Areas Act prohibits hunting in the Kruger National Park, wild animals from there are being killed. SANParks took the decision to remove the fences. It is now disregarding its mandate and responsibility to protect them by allowing hunting to take place in the private areas adjacent to it.

Wild animals that move across imaginary human boundaries are being killed for profit and pleasure by a few people benefiting from an agreement which allowed the fences to be taken down.

The main tenet of the agreement was to “create ecological unity”. Surely this means it must be managed according to national park principles and not for trophy hunting purposes. Those who wanted to support trophy hunting should not have been allowed to be party to the agreement. But there was no public participation around the agreement’s formulation.

It simply cannot be proved that trophy killings in the Associated Private Nature Reserves are of animals that are the property of the reserves. They are a national heritage and the owners of those properties should not have the right to decide on the future of this heritage.

As far back as 2005, the president of the United Democratic Movement, Bantu Holomisa, wrote to then president Thabo Mbeki contesting hunting in the private reserves, saying that animals from Kruger were being hunted.

Holomisa also called on the minister of environmental affairs to place an immediate moratorium on commercial hunting in all the private reserves adjoining the Kruger pending an independent investigation.

Surely we cannot condone the destruction of a national asset for the commercial gain of a private institution and the pleasure of a select group of rich hunters,” he said.

What is the use of protecting animals in Kruger if they are shot in a neighbouring reserve?” (Mail & Guardian, March 18, 2005).

It has now become critical for the South African government to review this highly contentious agreement.

It’s not surprising that trophy hunters like Peter Flack and individuals from Umbabat who support trophy hunting (many, including the approximately 200 Ingwala shareblock owners do not) try to defend the indefensible (see DM Letter to the Editor’ dated 13 June, 2018). He epitomises deeply flawed and abhorrent colonial, apartheid and untransformed conservation viewpoints. But let’s get down to his arguments.

The SANParks website estimates that in 2011 there were between 1 620 to 1,750 lions in Kruger. A growth of 50 lions (if we are to believe Flack) since 2011. This can hardly be used to describe the lion population in the park as “healthy and growing”. This is the first problem with Flack’s argument.

The second problem is his contention that, because of the so-called growing lion population, young male lions are forced out of prides. We could find no proof for this statement. It’s the sort of made-up “fact” hunters commonly use to justify their killing.

In fact, young males leave prides anyway, not because of overpopulation, but to take over another pride to guarantee healthy offspring. According to conservationist Dereck Joubert:

All lions face high mortality as cubs, for a variety of reasons, including injuries, lack of food, illness and being killed by adult lions. But when male lions begin to reach sexual maturity around age two, the older males within the pride kick them out.”

The use of animals for sport is an emotive issue. But this cannot be used to discredit the article, written by Don Pinnock, grounded on available facts as the story unfolded. Flack’s response, based on emotions, a few thumb-sucks and no scientific facts, also discredits his own attempt to taint the reputation of Ian Michler, who is respected internationally for his work in conservation.

The Umbabat lion was baited, which was confirmed by Umbabat warden Bryan Havemann. So much for “ethical” hunters and their so-called “fair chase” methods. This was nothing more than a canned hunt, to benefit certain private reserve owners. As an American, the hunter could be disbarred from Safari Club International, the world’s biggest hunting association, of which he is undoubtedly a member, for baiting and canned lion hunting.

Any agreement between the private reserves and Kruger that animals on the “wrong side” of the invisible fence can be trophy hunted, should be deemed illegal, as due process was not followed when this agreement was drawn up.

According to a critic of trophy hunting, the World Wide Fund for Nature’s Saliem Fakir, “the continued promotion of hunting is being justified by rather erroneous cost-benefit analysis”. He said industry stalwarts had skilfully manipulated political language to paint a righteous face on the industry.

Who will benefit from the money (about R1-million) the hunter paid for this trophy? The animals? Definitely not. The community? Definitely not. Kruger? No. Indeed the Kruger letter of 6 February specifically queried Umbabat’s failure to identify hunting proceeds as going towards conservation or socio-economic objectives as Kruger requires.

Some explanation by Flack of where all the millions spent on trophies go would have been helpful.

The long-term damage caused by trophy hunting activities outweighs any possible perceived short-term gain. The negative evolutionary effects of trophy hunting on wild populations deplete populations and threaten the tourism industry. It is also incompatible with South Africa’s attempts to position itself internationally as a destination for ecotourism.

Ecotourism and trophy hunting are mutually exclusive: eco-tourists do not want to go to places where wildlife is being killed.

Flack states that Umbabat Private Nature Reserve is “effectively part of the park (Kruger)”. There is a reason why it’s called a private reserve – because it is NOT part of the KNP. As with any privately-owned facility, the landowners are responsible for the upkeep and maintenance.

People who live in private reserves are privileged to be part of nature.

Instead of killing wild animals for profit – of course all done under the ruse of “conservation”– they should provide a safe haven.

Flack appears to – no, wait – he DOES attack animal rights organisations for trying to protect the animals he believes hunters have the right to bait and kill for “conservation”. Some science would have given his argument a little more credibility.

There is simply not enough empirical data to show that South Africa’s wild lion population is not under threat. Large predators are in decline globally, with growing concern over the impacts of human activity on conservation status and range of many populations. The global lion population has declined by 43% in just 21 years (three generations), with high threat levels across the species’ broad geographic range.

They have definitely been wiped out in 12 African countries and probably in another four. It is within this shocking context that Flack tries to imply an abundance of lions. There are only 2,376 lions in South African national parks (this includes the private reserves).

Instead of making arguments to kill them we should be insisting that our government does everything in its power to protect them.

Habitat loss and hunting (which includes poaching) are the greatest threats to wildlife populations. Lions are under increasing threat from poaching – and South Africa’s support for the lion bone trade is impacting negatively on wild populations, here and elsewhere in Africa.

Apart from the ethical and compassionate issues, hunting is a “consumptive use” practice that has significant environmental impacts and interferes with many ecosystem processes. It influences genetic diversity and composition of species, population size, density, distribution, structure, dynamics, behaviour and the condition of habitats.

Hunting also exerts negative impacts on other animal species, plants and ecosystems. Genetic studies of wild populations in which trophy hunting takes place have shown that body weight and horn size have declined significantly.

Trophy hunting disturbs the sex or age structure disrupting the mating system, the fertility and survival of certain sectors of the population and the offspring sex ratio. The removal of even a few targeted individuals could have dire consequences. And this is true for lions too.

A recent study (2016) found that a reduction in hunting quotas over the study period resulted in a 62% increase in the total population and a 200% increase in adult male density in the study area. It also found that trophy hunting on the park boundary lowered survival rates.

Trophy hunting is not pro-poor, nor is it pro-wildlife and does not develop sustainable local economies. Non-consumptive, ethical wildlife ecotourism, on the other hand, is a sustainable strategy which protects wildlife and meets human needs.

The word trophy means a memorial of victory in war, spoils taken from the enemy as a token of victory and power. Trophy hunting, like colonialism, is about power and has its roots in imperial practices of control and annexation. This is the home of the hunting, pro-gun lobby.

We urgently need new, ethics-based approaches to wildlife conservation. But the way conservation is practised in South Africa has become part of the problem. The trade, sale and hunting of South Africa’s wild animals is driven by commodification, commercialisation and profit rather than by compassion or robust science.

The threats wild animals are facing are powerfully linked to South Africa’s current uncompassionate conservation policies of overt consumptive use and inadequate policing and enforcement measures.

Wild animals, which suffered under colonialism and apartheid, now continue to be victims under “sustainable use” policies. Government agencies, hide behind this vague, undefined, flawed, cruel, erroneous ideological concept.

A consequence is that it has become an alibi for profit-making, exploitation and gratuitous violence against wild animals.

The head of Mpumalanga Parks and Tourism Authority’s ecological services, Johan Eksteen, told The Times (June 12, 2018) that:

There is a possibility you might be removing an animal that might be a pride male and that infanticide might take place, but the removal of a group of young cubs that is in the population is part of the calculation. You know there are risks.”

This callous statement encapsulates how, on the ground, our government’s “sustainable use” policies are literally translating into a war against wildlife.

So Mr Flack, could we ask you how many wild animals you have killed, how has this contributed to conservation, why you finally stopped hunting and, just out of interest, why were you asked to resign as a WWF trustee? DM

Smaragda Louw is Director: Ban Animal Trading and Michele Pickover is Director: EMS Foundation


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