Giraffe 'prime suspect' in death

Pietermaritzburg - Seventy-year-old Schalk Hagen died without telling anyone exactly what happened to him. Now the prime suspect in his death is a giraffe.

Hagen had gone for his usual morning walk at Bisley Nature Reserve in March.

The only thing he uttered to his distraught wife on his return from his walk, with blood spurting 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 told on Monday how a bull giraffe attacked and chased instructors and patrons around at the Canterbury stables, the same month Hagen was injured.

Hagen's wife, Aletha, added that he and his 16-year-old grand-daughter had previously gone for a walk in the reserve when a giraffe, accompanied by a sibling, charged at them aggressively.

"I suppose it was chasing them away from the group. When he came home wounded that day, the first thing I asked him was if he had been attacked by a giraffe, but he was unable to reply," said Aletha.

Cracked skull, deep head wound

Hagen had suffered a cracked skull and a deep head wound which received 14 stitches.

She said that doctors had said that his head wound may have been caused by a bottle which had been thrown out of a car.

The story of Hagen's mysterious injury sparked Ross McCann's memory of a giraffe attack at the Canterbury stables, a riding school at the Bisley Valley Nature 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 for hiding. 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 the 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 trainees, as the giraffe chased after them.

Big black spots

"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 now been erected around the stables to prevent the wild animals getting near the horses, as they would get upset when the giraffes entered the stables.

Msunduzi municipality Conservation manager, Rodney Bartholomew said he was not aware of the incident. "We have no records of an incident involving a giraffe at the riding school.

"A giraffe is unlikely to physically 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.

"I don't believe the giraffe is a hazard to members of the public but if there is evidence that it is a threat, we would take appropriate action."

'Passive' creatures

The reserve has walking tracks which are used by people who walk into the valley.

Police spokesperson, Senior Superintendent Henry Budhram said a forensic investigation will determine the real cause of Hagen's death.

"We are taking it (the possibility of a giraffe attack) into serious consideration. We are running forensic tests that will provide evidence on the cause of death."

Jeff Gaisford, spokesperson for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, said that a giraffe would attack only if a person interfered with it, or if it had offspring.

"Normally they are passive and would run away from humans."

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