‘Tame’ lioness bites 10-year-old

2013-07-22 00:00

FOR 30 seconds that felt like a lifetime, an angry lioness bit into the arm of a shocked 10-year-old boy visiting the Zanchieta Wildcat farm outside Bloemfontein on Saturday.

The farm was hosting a birthday party for lioness Elsa who had turned five, and Johan Opperman was among a group of people who attended the festivities with his father Andries.

Johan was standing with his back against the lioness’s cage when she suddenly turned and clawed the boy’s left arm through the bars of her cage with such force that the cage shook.

Minutes before the attack, the mood was jovial as visitors watched how the owner of the lioness, Miekie van Tonder (25), kissed and hugged the lioness before marking the animal’s fifth birthday with a large meaty bone.

Several visitors had also rubbed the lioness through the bars.

When Elsa moved to pick up her new bone she passed the oblivious Johan.

Without provocation, the lioness suddenly clawed his jacket, pulling the boy’s left arm through the bars into her cage before biting into his arm.

A fearless Van Tonder immediately jumped over Elsa, hitting her hard enough on the nose to make the big cat’s eyes water.

But with her eyes narrowed to slits, the lioness just bit deeper into the boy’s arm.

Van Tonder then forced both her hands between the lioness’s teeth to pry her jaws open as the boy’s father tried to pull his son free on the other side of the bars.

Andries finally managed to tear his son from the big cat’s jaws after another visitor hit Elsa’s paws to force her to let go of the shocked boy, who had turned white without uttering a sound throughout the ordeal.

After about 30 seconds, the lioness suddenly let go of the boy.

His body hung limply in his father’s arms while staff stemmed the bleeding with tissues before Andries rushed his son to the Bloemfontein MediClinic for treatment.

Hospital spokesperson Amanda Appelgryn said yesterday the boy will be operated on tomorrow to reconnect muscles and tissue.

She said he was “doing better” and his pain was under control.

Andries did not wish to comment.

Van Tonder’s fingers were still badly swollen yesterday after she forced open Elsa’s jaws.

She said she had reacted without thinking and did not feel any pain at the time.

“I would rather that she [Elsa] bit off my fingers than the laaitie’s,” she said.

Van Tonder said she felt ashamed and bad about Elsa’s behaviour, but was not angry with the lioness.

“She will always be a wild animal. A lion is not like a cheetah that becomes tame,” she explained.

She said visitors were told to keep the children at a safe distance from the cage because as a cub Elsa had been teased by children and as a result she still did not like them.

“All children are the same to her. In the wild, lions will target the smallest and the weakest.”

Four years ago Elsa also made headlines in sister paper Volksblad when she suffered a broken vertebra in her neck while playing with other lions on the farm.

As in the wild, lions will target the smallest and the weakest.

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