By Mpho Raborife, News24
Management at the Lion Park, where a tourist was mauled to death earlier this week, should have foreseen the possibility of an attack, an animal behaviour consultant told News24 on Wednesday, describing conditions there as a “recipe for disaster”.
The American tourist, described as being in her twenties, was killed by a lioness at the park outside Johannesburg on Monday afternoon.
It is believed that the big cat jumped through an open window on the left passenger side where she was sitting and bit her. Tour guide Pierre Potgieter, who was driving the car, sustained injuries while trying to fight the lioness off.
The woman died at the scene while being treated by paramedics. Potgieter is currently being treated in hospital after he allegedly suffered a heart attack during the incident.
“You cannot have a situation where you’ve got human beings interacting so frequently with wild animals and not have it create some kind of problem,” animal behaviour expert Shannon McKay said.
“These are wild animals. They are not domesticated. They are kept in very small enclosures considering the amount of space they normally need. If you’ve got tourists going into the camps, and once [there] they are totally unsupervised, it is a recipe for disaster.”
More than 40 warning signs
The park’s assistant operations manager Scott Simpson said the park had more than 40 signs with images and text warning visitors to keep their windows closed at all times when driving through the camps.
But, countered McKay, “Something as relatively innocuous as leaving your window down shouldn’t result in death.”
She said tourists should rather see the camps from inside a vehicle which is under the sole control of the park’s own guide.
“I think to assume that everyone is going to follow the rules [is irresponsible]. Unfortunately human beings break the rules and this is not the first time there has been an incident. This is serious stuff, people are dying.
“If there was a theme park with a roller coaster and every now and then people got thrown off and died, it would be shut down.
“They need to take responsibility for the fact that the experiences they are offering could result in death.”
She welcomed the fact that the lion was not going to be put down and that it would be moved to a different enclosure saying it had only acted naturally.
“These animals have these ingrained behaviour patterns to track, hunt, stalk and kill prey. But in the camp it appears they do not to get to exercise this and it kind of builds up a behavioural itch,” she said.
She said it wasn’t an issue of whether the lioness would develop a taste for human flesh, but that the attack may have provided the predator with some kind of mental release, which it would possibly try to achieve again.
McKay said that although the camp enclosures at the Lion Park and similar establishments were larger than what one would find at a zoo, for instance, the lions still lacked environmental enrichment.