For many of us Skye, the Umbabat/Kruger lion, was named at the same time he got the bullet that ended his life.
He was named because people wanted to mourn the murder of a wild lion in what they all believed was a safe space for wildlife. A name makes that process easier. The lion received the bullet for those people who wanted money for his lifeless trophy. Trophy hunting is justified by hunters and land owners, pronouncing that the money helps to fund the conservation of other wild lions.
What we are left with is a dead wild lion. Wild lions in South Africa battle for survival. Their survival as predators depend solely on the managed protected ‘natural’ spaces left in our country. There are so few wild lions, and so few spaces in which they can live that any disregard for the lion or the space it can live in has to be explored. We must hunt for the truth about lions in South Africa but the truth it seems, has been lost to greed on the one hand and emotion on the other. Even science, and its data, is manipulated to justify actions.
At this point we are left with a dead wild lion hanging on a wall in some distant country as a trophy. There aren’t only two sides to this story. There are many sides to it. The lions bred in captivity purely for the trade in their bones, skins and teeth. Lion cubs paraded first for ‘petting’, and the lions bred on farms for hunting. This is where we must start hunting for the truth.
South Africa’s geography and its significance
South Africa remains one of the world’s most ecologically diverse countries in the world. I understand that our marine and floral endemic contributors are forefront in allowing us to shine on the world stage when it comes to diversity. I understand too, that our continent and our country still have large tracts of savanna biomes to manage. Africa’s savannas have supported a magical diversity of large animals, the savannas host thousands of species and contribute heavily to the ‘economy of nature’ in southern Africa. South Africa’s savanna covers 46% of our land.
South Africa’s cultural and historical significance
South Africa holds several keys that unlock huge historical, cultural and scientific doors to the insights and data of our own development as a species. Some of the oldest rocks hold paleontological insights to our species on the savanna. The cultural development of man in rock art is painted on cave walls on the savanna, of whole communities and insights into their past.
Our savanna is home to some of the world’s most dreamed about adventures, most explored sciences, most loved animals and wildernesses. Our savanna, along with all our endangered spaces, is the only sustainable resource South Africa still has.
Money and monsters on the savanna
46% of our country is called savanna – that’s about a third of the country. About half of this highly sustainable area is adequately conserved, and of that half only 5% of our savanna is protected by laws and legislation (mostly government acts, interpretation of acts and addendums to acts) pertaining to national parks and reserves.
A large percentage is owned privately. This private ownership of South Africa’s savanna is mostly used for big game hunting activities – and cannot be underestimated when looking at the conservation of the savanna biome in South Africa.
The laws governing protected wildlife areas, private wildlife reserves and any other special nature or cultural spaces in South Africa are well addressed, and although serious debate and real argument must always take precedence over complacency, the issues surrounding wildlife protection has created money and monsters on the savanna.
We are all governed by an evolving and constantly updated environmental act. This act can be found at https://cer.org.za/virtual-library/legislation/national/biodiversity-and-conservation/national-environmental-management-biodiversity-act-2004 and is the document we all need to read before naming trophy hunters as the only monsters on the savanna.
Within South Africa’s biodiversity act – you can reflect on the monsters we have created because of our:
Ignorance or apathy of this act
Corruption and neglect of managing this act
Greed and self-indulgent power grabbing in interpretation of this act
Manipulated science and data for personal gain
Or not using our rights to influence thinking about this act
Once we understand the laws of our country and interpret our thinking to it – you and I are protected by a part of our constitution that proclaims:
Section 24 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996
Everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; and to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that prevent pollution and ecological degradation; promote conservation; and secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.
South Africa is a contracting Party to the Convention of Biological Diversity, South Africa has an obligation to meet the goals set out in the Program of Work for Protected Areas. This report addresses Goal 4.2 in which parties are to undertake management effectiveness evaluations of at least 30% of their protected areas. This document can be reviewed at: http://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/programme_of_work_on_protected_areas.pdf
Hunting for the truth
If you are hunting for the truth when it comes to the way South Africa is managing its goals, commitments and philosophies on trophy hunting you need to take an active role in exploring the acts and the rules that govern us. You need to get involved, and you need to provide an input on where you stand. I stand firm that the regulated trade and hunting of high profile animals should remain in the hands of the private owner – and not become a national ethic. Our protected areas should remain focused on tourism (without hunting) and on rehabilitating, restoration, re-use and recycle.
“My truth is that the monster that trophy hunting is, is created by the monster that apathy is!”
Who is the monster?
One thing for sure is that money is generated by trophy hunting – how much of it goes to conservation and protection of wildlife in its environment can only be estimated.
The other thing for sure is that money is generated by wildlife watching – how much of it goes to the conservation and protection of wildlife and its environment can only be estimated.
Shouting about what you think is right or wrong about the protection and conservation of wildlife in its environment does not generate any money – unless you get actively involved! Join an animal rights organisation, or a scientific conservation group or a national effort and contribute. Contribute in money if you have, or opinion if you have. Spend time – that’s the critical thing Nature no longer has.
My personal reflections
Every trophy hunter I have ever spoken to insists that the practice of stalking and shooting an animal for its skin, its horns or tusks is a great conservation tool. Over a beer, trophy hunters openly discuss their sense of excitement, joy and adrenaline surge they feel after taking the life of an animal to hang the trophy on a wall. A trophy hunter pays huge sums of money to kill an animal and take its lifeless body parts to a far away land to hang them on their wall.
I can’t come to terms with the joy trophy hunters experience by killing an elephant or lion or African buffalo that lives a life in the wild to put its head, skin, tusk or horn on a wall. I cannot understand the sense of triumph trophy hunters experience while they toast their lifeless trophy and strut about showing off this ‘bravery and accomplishment’.
The hunter may be a different kettle of fish. Perhaps the farmer is too. Perhaps even the trader, who trades in body parts. The meat-eater, the wearer of leather, all piano players, fashion kings and queens, circus goers and other users of animal products and body parts are not like the trophy hunter. They do not commit the murder, they may endorse it in some way and like the herds of buffalo they have destroyed in land grabbing, they meander into and out of compassion, guilt and regret for their part in the slaughter of our planet and its wildlife. They are not like the trophy hunter – the murderer out on the savanna looking to shoot a 40-pounder and clamp that ivory or head and tusk to his or her wall. They will justify the murder by proclaiming that there are too many elephants in Africa, or too many lions…I worry too about how many elephants and lions hang on far away walls.
The 21st century sees us all scrambling for significance; we started growing the seeds for animal rights, for animal protection. We started to look at animal cruelty, and we tried to become more aware of our environment and our use of the land and the sea. At the same time conservationists were debating the longevity of our earth and how to protect it.
Today we fight against the illegal slaughter of our animals, we debate trade or no trade as a conservation tool. We shout and scream about abuse. We justify farming, we support sustainability – or at least the concept of it all. We hate or love all this with equal intent. We wear our justifications on our sleeves like military rank, and badge up our support for or against…
Today we are in conflict. The trophy hunter knows this, lifts their glass to our hysterical banter, chambers another round, and shoots to kill then cuts off the trophy to hang it on the wall.
All photographs were taken by Neil Heron over twenty years, were wild lions in the Kruger National Park. One bullet stopped all that money coming into South Africa.
*All photos taken by Neil Heron in the Kruger National Park