Monday, April 03, 2006

South African Lion Escapes Game Preserve

Villagers tell of their fight to beat off escaped lion


April 3, 2006


By Lebogang Seale


Johannesburg: Gladys Mdaka was fast asleep when she was woken by a commotion coming from the kraal adjacent to her house.


Without thinking, the petite mother of three jumped out of her bed. She rushed to investigate what was disturbing her five prized cattle.


Much to her surprise, she saw a large lion clawing at her cattle, biting their necks.


For a few seconds, Mdaka froze and then screamed in Tsonga: "Vanhu va tiko, ni lamuleleni! Tinghala!" (Fellow people! Save me! Lions!)


Two of her neighbours - Grace and Johnson Khosa - responded to her screams.


The three were unarmed.


Johnson grabbed an empty plastic container that Madaka normally uses to fetch water and used it to beat the lion.


Meanwhile, the agitated Grace and Mdaka continued to scream.


More neighbours arrived at the kraal. One switched on his car's headlights and trained them on the kraal.



This prompted the lion to flee.


Moments later Mdaka noticed that the lion had killed four of her cattle.


These dramatic events happened at 1am last Tuesday at Mdaka's village, Bushbuckridge.


In an interview with The Mercury, the widow relived the 15-minute struggle with the lion in her kraal, adjacent to her six-roomed homestead in Dumphiries village.


In the past two weeks, villagers from Dumphiries and Lephong villages have been terrorised by lions, which had escaped from the Sabie Game Reserve that is part of the Greater Kruger National Park.


The fence of the reserve along the Sabie River had been washed away by heavy rains.


Five lions were lured back into the reserve and another eight have been killed, according to Limpopo's Chief Environmentalist, Bertus Howard.


The 46-year-old Mdaka recounted her story yesterday.


"I was awakened by the desperate sounds of my cows in the kraal. I quickly jumped out of my bed and rushed outside. I was afraid, but I managed to gather my strength and dashed to the kraal," she said.


"I nearly froze when I saw the lion right inside the kraal. I was breathless and shaking. I ran to call out to my neighbours. Grace and Johnson appeared.


"Johnson grabbed an empty plastic container and used it to beat the lion," she said.


Mdaka said more neighbours arrived. 



"Later one of the neighbours brightened the kraal with his car's headlights. To our relief, the beast ran away. We the noticed that the lion had killed four of my cattle," Mdaka added, with a trembling voice.


Johnson, the hero of the moment, was modest about his achievements.


"I was scared, but I had to do something. I was the only man on the scene. I wished I had a weapon," he said.


Mdaka said the killing of her cattle was a big blow to her family.


"We used to sell our livestock when we wanted to buy food or pay for my children's education. If we could not find a buyer immediately, we would slaughter a cow and sell meat," she said, battling to hold back tears.


She is the sole breadwiner. Her husband died in 1988.


Another cattle owner, Piet Mokoena, of Lephong village, lost three cows to the lions.


"I was looking for livestock when I came across a lion eating one of my cows. I was devastated. I called the rangers from the Sabie Sands Game Reserve. They tried to shoot the lions, but missed," he said.


Another cattle owner, Phillip Khosa, claimed he had been forced to live as a beggar after lions killed four of his cattle early last year.


"I also do odd jobs for people, such as building fences. I also try to plough to save food, but the rains are not good," said Khosa, who is married with four children.


A local headman, Joseph Moeng, appealed to the government to compensate families who had lost their livestock to the lions.


"Most people are poor and rely on cattle for survival. The authorities have not said anything," he said.


Howard said at this stage the government could do nothing.

"It's sad. But if you live in an area that is prone to lion attacks, you must take care.


"We are the custodian of wild life. The department does not make any provision for compensation," he said.


Spokesman for the Department of Environmental Affairs, Moses Tseli, reiterated Howard's position.


"We will meet the leadership of the Sabie Sands Game Reserve and the community leaders.


"We hope to get an amicable solution to this problem," he said.


A spokesman for the Kruger National Park, Raymond Travers, declined to comment.


For the cats,


Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue

an Educational Sanctuary home

to more than 100 big cats

12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL  33625

813.493.4564 fax 885.4457

Sign our petition here:


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