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The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) says it is considering allegations that a lion may have been illegally baited in a private reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park in a hunt organised for a US trophy hunter.

“We are in the process of considering the allegations and will review all the relevant information and then make a decision on whether or not action will be taken,” said spokesperson Albi Modise yesterday.

Controversy has dogged the “secretive” June 7 hunt in Umbabat Private Nature Reserve, part of the unfenced Associated Private Nature Reserves (APNR), bordering Kruger.

The Conservation Action Trust first reported the hunt, citing unconfirmed reports that the hunted lion may have been Skye, from Kruger’s Western Pride.

This week, in a letter sent to the DEA by environmental attorneys Cullinan & Associates on behalf of its clients, the EMS Foundation, and Ban Animal Trading raised concerns that violations of the 2007 Threatened or Protected Species (Tops) legislation were committed during the hunt.

The organisations cited how their repeated requests to Mpumalanga conservation authorities to view the hunting permit had been ignored. “The warden of UPNR said in a statement to the press that the lion was baited, allegedly to ensure the correct lion was shot. An official confirmed this on record,” read the letter.

“Baiting of lion is permitted in terms of the Mpumalanga Nature Conservation Act (MNCA), provided the permit issued specifies it.

“However, baiting of lion is not permitted by the Tops Regulations, 2007, as amended

“There is good reason to believe the lion that was hunted was not the animal which was specified in the permit. Our client and other concerned individuals have been denied the opportunity to inspect the skin despite repeated requests, from which only an adverse inference may be drawn.”

Kholofelo Nkambule, spokesperson for the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA), said on February 6 authorities in Kruger indicated they would not support the hunt due to predator population figures.

“At that stage MTPA also was not supporting the hunt without any population information. The information was submitted later the same month and our approval was sent on February 22. Based on the 2017 predator census information, the hunt of one lion was regarded as sustainable.”

When asked whether baiting was allowed, Nkambule said: “Two provinces in South Africa are not Tops compliant yet, of which Mpumalanga is one. The hunting permit was therefore issued in terms of the MNCA ... Given the information available at the time the lion was hunted, it appears the lion was a male lion that complies with the requirements of the APNR hunting protocol.”

Access to the skin had been denied, because “the moment that the hunting client pulled the trigger on the lion, he took ownership of the animal”.

Ike Phaahla, spokesperson for SANParks, said it managed an ecosystem and not individual species or animals. “We manage a national parks system that does not allow for hunting. The dropping of the fences with the APNR is managed by agreed protocols which specify what can be done or can’t be done.

“It was a noble idea to increase the range for animals and allow for free passage. These private reserves have resident prides within their land which makes it difficult to say an animal is a Kruger animal or not.”

Last month, UPNR management said it engaged in commercial hunting to help fund its conservation costs.

“None of the funds from hunting goes to any individual ... All hunting in the UPNR is governed by national and provincial law, and is further guided by the Greater Kruger Hunting Protocol, which is a well-defined document compiled by representatives and experts from the KNP, state, province and privateThe UPNR does not engage in luring animals from beyond its boundaries for any purpose whatsoever.”

It disputed, too, that a named pride male was hunted. Michele Pickover, of the EMS Foundation, said efforts were under way to prohibit the export of the lion trophy to the US. “Even if this wasn’t Skye ... trophy hunting should not be happening in unfenced private reserves next to Kruger. These animals are national assets.”

SANParks’s agreement with the APNR needed to be reviewed in a “transparent, public way”, she said.

Phaala said: “SANParks would like to see everyone in the APNR respecting the protocols which manage the agreement on the dropping of fences. We have expressed our concerns through relevant channels and are talking to APNR on this and other matters. We will communicate the outcome.”

The Saturday Star