UMBABAT – Despite the promise that the lion that was recently hunted in the Umbabat Private Game Reserve was not Skye, suspicions are stacking up.
Last month, the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) confirmed that it has kept its promise regarding the lion hunt in Umbabat on June 7, but this was also the last time that Skye was seen.
UPDATE: Hunted lion was not Skye, says MTPA
Initially the MTPA and SANParks opposed an application for the hunt, and both parties required population information from the Associated Private Nature Reserves and Umbabat. Based on the information later supplied, the hunt of one lion – regarded as sustainable at 1,3 per cent of the population – was approved on February 22, provided that it took place within the existing legal framework.
In a meeting held in May, the process of applying and obtaining approval for species to be hunted each year and the correct protocols was explained. Attendees were assured that the leader of the Western Pride, named Skye, was not the target. An elderly male that often encroached into the north-eastern region of Umbabat from the Kruger was in the crosshairs.
Even though MTPA’s head of professional hunting, Riaan de Lange, confirmed that the hunt took place on the border of the KNP and was regarded as sustainable, he assured Lowvelder that it was definitely not Skye.
Now, Charlie Lynam who has been following the Western Pride for a number of years, of which Skye was the dominant member, has a different opinion.
According to Lynam, Skye has been the main attraction for ecotourists and locals alike. “He managed to create a very stable pride system, made up of three young cubs, three sub-adult males and six lionesses. There were very tight bonds between Skye and all of the pride members,” he said.
He noted that the last time he was seen and heard was on June 7, when his territorial claims echoed across the bush. The hunt took place on June 7.
“He was not supposed to have been hunted. He was declared a ‘high value pride male’ for reasons of genealogy, pride stability and as a tourist attraction.
“He has not been seen since the night of June 7 and those responsible for the hunt still emphatically deny that they shot Skye. Skye had a distinctive “S” shape patterned branding mark on his right rear rump. You can see it clearly on a few of the photographs.
“Despite the ease of identifying Skye, the hunters have refused to show any photographic evidence of the shot animal’s right-hand rump and have declined requests for access to the skin,” said Lynam.
He worries that Skye’s pride are now in grave danger with a young cub already killed by competing lions. “Where it used to be stable and wonderful, it is now mayhem.”