Lion attack: No charges

Polokwane - Limpopo police and conservation authorities have declined to press charges against rangers or the lodge where lions mauled an American tourist at the weekend.

Authorities said on Wednesday there was not proof of criminal negligence or other crime, and stressed that the victim, Kimberly Thomen, was declining to institute legal proceedings.

Three hand-reared lions attacked Thomen on Friday when she approached them for a photograph at Leshoka Thabang game lodge near Polokwane.

Thomen had been assured that the lions were tame, and was accompanied by a lodge ranger.

Investigators said on Wednesday that a young male lion named Simba jumped on Thomen from behind and was joined by two pride members who clawed and bit the screaming tourist's shoulder, left arm and both legs.

She was saved by the ranger and a second American tourist, who both physically pulled the lions off Thomen.

Limpopo Parks Board chief executive Edgar Mushwana said on Wednesday the incident was an unfortunate 'freak accident', but did not constitute a breach of provincial conservation regulations. "The fact that Ms Thomen is herself refusing to lay charges is significant," he said.

Provincial police spokesperson Ronel Otto added that police could not lodge charges without Thomen's co-operation. Thomen is recovering from her injuries at the Pietersburg Medi-Clinic in the provincial capital, where she was airlifted immediately after the attack.

"I'm in a lot of pain, and have undergone a number of operations, but am coping by looking at the whole incident as a genuine African experience," said Thomen, from her hospital bed.

"I don't blame anyone, and don't want the lions destroyed. I still dream about it, but I was there of my own free will and would go back again any time."

Thomen might just get her wish. Leshoka Thabang lodge said on Wednesday that it intended paying for Thomen to come back to South Africa at any stage in the future for a "real holiday".

The lodge and Ntshonalanga Safaris are also paying all medical costs.

"We regret the incident, and can assure guests that steps have been taken to prevent a re-occurrence. In future all lions will be treated as wild animals, and nobody will be allowed to disembark from game drive vehicles," a joint statement reads.

Thomen is expected to be released from hospital by Friday, and will immediately fly home to Sugarland, Texas.

An internal lodge investigation into the attack has meanwhile absolved all rangers from blame, but has recommended that stricter safety measures be implemented. New measures include prohibitions against allowing tourists near any animals on foot.

The reserve's pride of hand-reared lions will also in future be treated as "wild" animals, and no more photo opportunities will be allowed.

National environmental affairs spokesperson Peter Botha said reserves did not require special permits for allowing tourists near "tame" predators, but said they were obliged to ensure the safety of tourists.

Leshoka Thabang boasts 24 white rhino, leopard, sable, buffalo, and other big game in addition to lion on its 3 000ha of bush in Limpopo's Reodtan district. - African Eye News

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