Lions turn outing into nightmare

2009-07-22 23:06
During a visit by Ezemvelo KZN wildlife in November 2008, lions were seen crowded in cages made of converted shipping containers. (The Witness)

During a visit by Ezemvelo KZN wildlife in November 2008, lions were seen crowded in cages made of converted shipping containers. (The Witness)

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Pietermaritzburg - A KwaZulu-Natal family have told how their outing to the Natal Zoological Gardens and Lion Park in Cato Ridge turned into a nightmare when a pride of lions surrounded their car and began chewing the bumper and the door handles.

Vinashree Pragastan and her husband, along with her mother, sister and eight-year-old niece, had just entered the lion enclosure when a lion came to the front of the car and started chewing the beading.

She said 10 to 15 lions then surrounded the vehicle.

"We couldn't get away, because the lions were chewing the bumper and the handles," Vinashree said.

The Pregastans and another family in a 4x4 had been let into the enclosure by two guards.

"The guys at the gate didn't even try and distract the lions, they just stood there and watched."

Became 'agitated'

More lions went on to surround the vehicle behind them.

Vinashree described the lions' behaviour as "very agitated and not friendly".

But park owner Brian Boswell disputed this, saying: "The lions are young and playful. Everyone is told to move on and not to wait for them to climb on the car."

However, Vinashree insists that they received no verbal warnings about how to protect their car, only an instruction printed on the tickets to remain in the vehicle and keep the windows closed.

Vinashree said there were no signs around the park on vehicle safety.

"With 2010 coming up they need to put up signs about protecting the vehicle." She said it would cost R10 000 to repair the car.

Not the first time

She claims that this is not the first incident of this kind at the park, as her cousin witnessed a car being surrounded by lions two weeks before.

Boswell assured The Witness that there are signs around the park and said this story was the product of "someone being sensational".

He said he will not personally compensate the Pragastan family, but their insurance company can claim from his for the damages to their Polo Playa.

Boswell said: "The way forward is for them to claim from their insurance, and then for their insurance to claim from the Lion Park’s insurance."

An angry Vinashree responded: "I'm not being sensational, the lions could have broken the glass."

'Intolerable' conditions at park

Meanwhile, Boswell is facing more trouble after the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg on Wednesday heard of the "intolerable" conditions of animals at the park.
                                                                    
In papers before the court, the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife detailed how a chimpanzee was found "emaciated", had no access to water while another chimp - who features in television advertisements - was kept in total isolation in a cage.

The organisation also found 67 lions that were kept in "ad hoc" and damp enclosures designed from disused shipping containers.

They also found four Asian elephants chained for 16 hours without access to water and only a bale of hay to eat.

The findings were made during an inspection at the park in November 2008.

Conditions improved

EKZNW executive director: biodiversity conservation, Bhekisisa Khoza, detailed these and other findings in response to an application by the park's owner Brian Boswell for an interdict against EKZNW pending an appeal.

He said in fairness to Boswell the condition of some of these animals had improved slightly when another inspection was held last month (June), but was still far from being acceptable.

Although EKZNW found a Hamadyas Baboon and her baby in one of the chimp cages in June, the other primates all had access to outside enclosures, and were no longer locked in cages.

The application brought by Boswell was for an interdict to stop EKNZW and its officials from enforcing recent conditions it has laid down in permits and licences, which Boswell maintains are "unenforceable by virtue of the fact that they are unreasonable, irrational and/or unlawful".

- Reporting by Kirsten Drury, Catherine Pennels and Ingrid Oellerman.

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