Picture: Supplied

The controversy deepens around the death of a magnificent male lion in Umbabat PNR as parliament was given the wrong pictures last week, which may have revealed the true identity of the hunted lion. 

The Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA),  presented the Portfolio Committee for Environmental Affairs with two photographs - one of a lion which they said was Skye, but was definitely not, and one of the hunted lion they claimed was not Skye, but which showed markings indicating that it almost certainly was Skye. 

An independent ecologist, Jason Turner, with 20 years experience in Lion identification, analysed the picture of the dead lion presented and concluded the identification features  to be “identical with those of the pride male named Skye from the facial scars and eye markings.”

Charlie Lynam, a shareblock owner living in Umbabat PNR who has been following and photographing the iconic Skye for years, says, “The photograph of the dead lion does appear to be of Skye as it bears a number of his definitive and unique identification characteristics such as nose and eye scars.”

Photos of facial scars and unique markings are used on trophy hunts to ensure that the correct animals are hunted. In Skye's case, MTPA's Head of Professional Hunting Riaan de Lange shared only a single, badly photocopied image of the face of a dead lion. 

Despite the controversy over the identity of the hunted lion, the MTPA are still denying any independent verification of the lion’s skin, claiming they have no authority over an animal after it is shot by a trophy hunter. 

They are also not yet willing to share the official Hunt Report, which would include detailed pictures of the hunted lion, and would settle any disputes over the true identity of the hunted lion. 

A DEA investigation into the hunt has not been made public however preliminary findings do not indicate any wrongdoing on the part of the professional hunter or Reserve.

However, if the wrong lion has been shot, both the hunting outfitter and the Umbabat Reserve Representative should be held accountable for not correctly identifying the trophy lion beforehand, as stipulated by the Greater Kruger Hunting Protocol and PHASA hunting regulations. 

Details of the misleading evidence presented to Parliament was brought to light by investigative journalist Don Pinnock, whose report on Hunting in the Greater Kruger National Park at a recent two-day Parliamentary colloquium on Captive Lion Breeding sparked the inquiry into the hunt.

At the post-colloquium inquiry, chairperson of the Portfolio Committee Phillemon Mapulane stated that the Umbabat hunt also "highlighted wider issues of concern, both in terms of law governing hunting in the Kruger National Park and the contractual arrangements between the Kruger National Park and the Association of Private Nature Reserves (APNR)". 

Umbabat was flagged by SANParks earlier this year for its questionable commitment to local community involvement and empowerment and its contribution to community development programmes, as required by the Greater Kruger Hunting Protocol.

The Protocol states that “Professional (commercial) hunting is conducted in these areas [the APNR] with the goals of providing the income to contribute to the management of the environment and to support social initiatives of community development as per Reserve specific programmes.”

According to Mapulane, the 1996 agreement's "benefit-sharing model is skewed in favour of those private reserves. 

"Fences have been dropped between Kruger National Park and the private reserves and as a result, there are wild animals roaming from Kruger into those private reserves, where there is a policy of hunting. Furthermore, he says, “Kruger does not benefit” from such hunting exercises, even though “it’s mostly the animals coming from Kruger that are hunted.”  

The Portfolio Committee called for an interrogation "to properly account for this system" with Mapulane saying "currently we do not know where the income derived from hunting is going". 

Conservation Action Trust