I had a high-school English teacher, Mrs Paxton, who taught us to look for the sense behind the words we read. It’s advice that has served me well. Don Scott’s piece The High Road to a greater Kruger National Park this week reminded me of her.
He complains about urban white people, particularly in faraway Cape Town, engaging in “emotive and often violent exchanges” over the hunting of a lion in Umbabat Reserve within the Greater Kruger biosphere a few weeks ago. He, on the other hand, lives there, so by implication he’s a suitably rural white person to be an authority on the issue. It’s a bit like saying journalists should only ever report on their home town.
But let’s leave that aside. Apart from telling us of great things about Greater Kruger – and that’s a good story for the most part – the heart of his article is a refashioning of Clem Sunter’s High Road/Low Road scenario to fit Scott’s conservation argument and lambaste “emotive and often violent” reporting.
His High Road, he tells us, represents the “willingness to understand that different stakeholders have different values, and that in order to integrate all our efforts in favour of conservation, we need to have tolerance for each other and our values” – ie let’s be tolerant. No problem with that.
The Low Road, he decides, is a “conservation landscape being driven by low-level divisive arguments and mud-slinging from within – social divisions are deepened and the whole system begins to fragment and collapse. What is the result? Less land available for wildlife to range in, and an eventual loss of many if not all wild animals”.
Now let’s apply the Paxton dictum. The issue Scott is really pissed about is journalists writing about the hunting of what is most likely a pride male lion named Skye much loved by tourists and lodge owners and whose death would probably result in the killing of his cubs when another male takes over.
Journalists, furthermore, have let the public (to whom they are responsible) know that the hunt, the American hunter, the PH outfitter, the taxidermist and even sight of the skin have been kept secret and are still mostly under wraps. If all is in order, then why the secrecy?
Our reporting of the hunt and its secrecy Scott claims is division-causing mud slinging leading to fragmentation, system collapse and eventual loss of all wild animals. Really? Well, maybe hunting them to extinction might do that. The only division it caused was between the hunter and outfitter and concession holders outraged by the hunt. The resignation of the chair and deputy chair of the Ingwelala Board over the non-disclosure on their doorstep attests to that.
The real issue, buried under the Scott word cloud, is that the private reserves in the APNR, as opposed to those in Sabi Sand further south, apply to Kruger Park each year and ritually get the right to hunt thousands of animals. Many of these are protected animals from Kruger Park, because there are no fences to prevent them entering the Associated Private Nature Reserves.
About that lion hunt: here are a few observations I’m not sure qualify as mud-slinging.
Journalists have been told that it was “an old lion, older that eight years” but nobody is being allowed to confirm this or see the carcass. Riaan de Lange of the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) who licensed the hunt, has denied any access to it.
He produced a photocopied image of the face of a dead lion that was clearly not Skye, but would not hand it over for further verification. He admitted that he “could show a picture of any dead lion”.
He said the hunting permit included permission to bait the lion, which is not normally allowed, but that it was done to allow the hunter to make sure he and the accompanying professional hunter could identify the correct lion to shoot.
But he told a journalist: “It’s pity we didn’t have more pictures. If the hunter had other pictures, then there would be no excuse, but he only had this one, so one can’t blame him if he did shoot Skye.”
This vagueness flies in the face of the Greater Kruger Hunting Protocol which 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 eight years are not selected”. Skye was under eight, so if he was shot it would constitute a permit violation.
Even the Managing Executive of Kruger National Park, Glenn Phillips, is concerned about this issue. He told an Umbabat concession holder that “if Umbabat does not sort out their governance issues, KNP will re-erect the fence”.
Regarding Timbavati, where you hang out Mr Scott, the latest Kruger Park response to the reserve’s request to hunt had four serious concerns about your hunting practices.
These included that your reserve representatives had not passed required courses at the Kruger Wildlife College, that the reserve failed to submit the ages of elephants hunted as required because “rodents ate the tags attached to jawbones”, that two elephant hunts illegally exceeded the permitted tusk size, and that two lions were hunted without notifying Kruger rangers as required. Perhaps these are not things you feel comfortable with me mentioning as a journalist?
Your diatribe does not deal with the ethics of the baited Umbabat hunt. Or possibly the hunting of the “wrong” lion. Nor does it blink at the large-scale hunting that takes place in reserves which lure tourists to expensive lodges without telling them that the animals they pay to photograph could end up mounted over a hunter’s fireplace. Another muddy secret journalists shouldn’t be speaking about?
So thank you Mrs Paxton for training me to cut through the guff to the meat of the matter. About the core of the issue, Mr Scott, you have said precisely nothing. In fact it is you who are attempting to throw mud and blow smoke at legitimate reporting of an event that your hunter friends are trying desperately to cover up. DM