Death mystery: did a giraffe injure man?

2008-10-06 00:00

Schalk Hagen (70) died without telling anyone exactly what happened to him during a walk at Bisley Nature Reserve in March.

The only thing he uttered to his distraught wife on his return from his walk, bleeding from a deep head wound, was “I ran away”. Hagen later died of his injuries.

Prompted by the story of Hagen’s death in The Witness last week, a reader yesterday described how a bull giraffe attacked and chased instructors and patrons at the nearby Canterbury stables in the same month that Hagen was injured.

Hagen’s widow, Aletha, said Hagen and his 16-year-old granddaughter were once charged in the reserve by a giraffe accompanied by a young animal.

“I suppose it was chasing them away from the group. When he came home wounded that day, the first thing I asked him was whether he had been attacked by a giraffe, but he was unable to reply,” she said. Hagen suffered a cracked skull and a deep head wound that received 14 stitches.

Doctors said the head wound might have been caused by a bottle thrown out of a car.

The story of Hagen’s mysterious injury reminded reader Ross McCann of a giraffe attack at the Canterbury stables, a riding school at the Bisley Valley reserve. “I am of the firm belief that Hagen was attacked by a giraffe.”

He said a giraffe left marks on a tree at the stables when it attacked instructors and trainees.

Instructor Francois Hugo said the bull giraffe chased more than five people around the stables.

“I was with my colleague and four people, some of whom were training in the sand arena. It charged my colleague, who ran into the outside toilet to hide. But the giraffe stuck its head into the toilet through the hole above the door. It was trying to head-butt him, so I tried to distract it.

“It immediately came after me as I ran and hid behind a tree.”

Hugo said the giraffe attacked him using its horns, but missed and dug them into the tree trunk. Two marks are still visible.

Hugo admitted he was scared and ran for his life, followed by his students, as the giraffe chased after them. “It was a bull giraffe, it smelt horrible, and had big black spots, darker than spots on other giraffes. We were separated just by the tree’s trunk.”

He said giraffes and other animals used to wander into the stables, but a fence has since been erected around the premises to prevent wild animals from getting near the horses because they become upset when the giraffes enter the stables.

Msunduzi Municipality conservation manager Rodney Bartholomew said he is not aware of the incident. “We have no records of an incident involving a giraffe at the riding school. A giraffe is unlikely to attack a person, and would normally run away if a person came too close. We regard the reports as hearsay because there is no evidence.”

He said the municipality will not take any action at the moment. “We don’t believe the giraffe is a hazard to members of the public, but if there is evidence that it is a threat, we will take appropriate action.”

Police spokesman Senior Superintendent Henry Budhram said a forensic investigation will determine the cause of Hagen’s death. “We are taking [the possibility of a giraffe attack] into serious consideration. We are running forensic tests that will provide evidence on the cause of death.”

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