Lodge owner to continue lion walks in wake of deadly attack

19 January 2017 - 11:47 By Graeme Hosken
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A Limpopo game lodge worker has died after he was attacked by lions who escaped from a neighbouring reserve.

Justice Cebekhulu‚ 46‚ and a colleague were cutting wood near the Lion Treetop Lodge‚ when two white lions escaped from their enclosure.

Lion Treetop Lodge is renowned for its offering of a walking with white lions experience.

The attack has drawn criticism from nature conservationists‚ who have slammed the practice of captive lion breeding.

Lion Treetop Lodge owner West Mathewson said the attack‚ which he said occurred because the lions wanted to play‚ was the first of its kind with his establishment.

He said the lions escaped after climbing a tree and jumping over the fence of their enclosure.

“We are devastated by what has happened‚” Mathewson said.

He said that‚ in his opinion‚ Cebekhulu was not mauled.

“The lions are incredibly playful and we believe that they wanted to play with Justice and his colleague.”

Mathewson said that‚ from what they understood from Cebekhulu's colleague‚ the men ran away when they saw the lions‚ “which is the worst thing to do”.

“As they ran‚ the lions took down Justice. There was a scuffle on the ground. Justice's colleague shouted at them and they ran off. If they were aggressive and had wanted to kill him‚ they would have done so within five seconds.

“Justice‚ who I believe only had minor injures‚ was airlifted to hospital where my business partner visited him every day until Saturday. When he was seen on Saturday he was sitting up and chatting. He was excited to be going home soon.”

He said that when his partner returned to the hospital on Monday‚ he was told that Cebekhulu had died.

“We were told that he died from natural causes and not from his injuries.”

He said that in the two years that he had operated his walking with lions tours‚ the lions‚ who are two-years-old‚ had never attacked anyone.

“They are not aggressive. We are back to doing walks with these lions and have not had anything go wrong this week.”

Mathewson said he would fight any attempts to euthanise the lions.

“That is simply not going to happen.”

The attack has drawn criticism from nature conservationists‚ with Linda Tucker of Global White Lion Protection Trust CEO saying such practices [walking with lions] were a disaster waiting to happen.

“It just happens to have happened here. But‚ you can be sure that it will happen elsewhere‚” she said.

Tucker said her organisation was against all captive lion keeping‚ regardless of its purpose.

“This is not the first time that something like this has happened and there will be more such incidents if captive lion keeping is allowed to continue.”

She said that‚ in August last year‚ 12-year-old Nkalamelo Latha was killed at Otavi Game Park near Parys‚ in the Free State‚ when he was taken into a lion enclosure.

“Last year‚ a British tourist was killed by a lion after opening her window at the Lion Park. This followed the death of a Protrack anti-poaching officer after captive lions‚ which had suffered serious brutality‚ were released into a nearby reserve.”

TMG Digital/The Times

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