File picture: Ian Landsberg/ANA pictures

Johannesburg - The Mpumalanga farmer who shot two of the four lions that escaped from the Kruger National Park on Sunday will not be prosecuted, authorities confirmed on Thursday.

The male lions escaped from the park and were seen late on Sunday near a road a few kilometres from the park, SA National Parks’ William Mabasa said at the time.

It was not known how the lions escaped from the park, most of which is fenced.

On Thursday afternoon, it was reported that two of the lions had been shot by a farmer who found them eating his livestock.

One of the lions was killed instantly while the second one was left wounded.

Officials were then forced to put down the wounded lion and kill a third animal.

SANParks spokesperson Janine Raftopoulos said the killing of the remaining lions came after officials were alerted to the shooting.

“Upon being informed of this, the search team on the ground as well as the SANParks chopper, keeping in mind this was a joint operation, were dispatched to the area where we discovered the wounded lion and the second lion.

“The injured lion is obviously very dangerous and is very unpredictable, so the decision was taken to put it down along with the third lion.”

Raftopoulos explained that killing the third uninjured lion was based on the fact that there was an increased risk that it may escape again in future and endanger lives.

She said that while it was not ideal to put down the lions, in this instance the decision was based on an assessment of the situation.

“In this case, the farmer had already killed one of the animals which changed the outcome of the situation entirely,” she said.

Regarding the reported escape of a fourth lion, Raftopoulos said evidence based on the tracks rangers had looked at on the ground only showed that there were three lions.

This fact was disputed by the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) spokesperson Kholofelo Nkambule, who reiterated that four lions had escaped.

“Four lions escaped and following the shooting… two were shot [by the farmer] and the remaining two were put down,” Nkambule said.

She explained the basis for not charging the farmer, saying he will not be charged because he acted within his rights.

“He’s basically protected because he was protecting his assets, which is the cattle, and acted within his rights. So there won’t be any legal action against the farmer,” she said.