Kruger Park guide not at fault for leopard attack - SANParks

2015-07-16 14:00
(Arno Pietersen, The Lowvelder)

(Arno Pietersen, The Lowvelder)

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Aggressive Kruger leopard captured on camera just an hour before attack

2015-07-08 10:55

The leopard that attacked a safari guide in the Kruger National Park was caught on camera just an hour before, trying to attack self-drive tourists to the park. WATCH

Johannesburg - The tour guide who was attacked by a leopard in the Kruger National Park earlier this month was not at fault, South African National Parks said on Thursday.

The leopard, which was subsequently put down, was in a poor condition and behaved unusually, they said. 

Joep Stevens, SA National Parks (SANParks) general manager of strategic tourism services, told journalists in Pretoria that the leopard involved in the attack on July 2 was an old male, believed to be 10 years or older.

"Its behaviour was certainly unusual, little doubt about that. Leopards are normally scared of people," Stevens, who conducted the investigation into the attack for SANParks, said.

"From the post mortem, [the leopard was in a] very poor condition."

The leopard had an empty stomach and distended gall bladder, indicating it had not eaten for days, with Stevens describing the leopard as almost "emaciated". 

It was carrying parasites on both its outside and inside, with porcupine quills stuck in its muscle likely causing it discomfort, was infected with tuberculosis, had no lesions on the brain, and tested negative for rabies.  

Leopard in 'poor condition'

"It was concluded from all the witnesses that the leopard was in a very poor condition, essentially in a desperate state," Stevens said.

"For this animal to try and find normal prey would've been very hard."

On the day of the attack, around 2km from the Skukuza camp day visitors area, around nine cars were watching the old male leopard when the car from Nhongo Safaris arrived.

The guide, Curtis Plumb, requested that his guests in the open safari vehicle sit still, but one of his guests got up and sat on the window sill, which appeared to have drawn the attention of the leopard. 

"The next thing the leopard got up, moved around the back of the vehicle and watched the customers on the back. Clearly the leopard was showing unusual behaviour by making eye contact with people," Stevens said.

The leopard moved around the back to the driver's side, looked and attempted to get into the vehicle. Plumb used his right hand to chase the leopard off, but it grabbed his forearm and held onto it, trying to pull him out the vehicle.

"The leopard was in a poor condition and had very worn teeth. If it was a young leopard, it would have been much more effective in doing what it was trying to do," Stevens said.

Plumb asked guests to frighten the leopard away, and after failing to do so, he asked a Hyundai micro bus for assistance. The driver of the Hyundai tried using his door to chase the leopard away, though it "was determined to hang on".

Plumb was able to get the car going, and as he reversed, a part of the leopard, possibly its tail, was caught under the front wheel. The leopard released its grip and Plumb reversed away, but the leopard charged the vehicle.

Plumb was on a side road, saw a car coming towards him and could not get away. He put the car into first gear and rode over the leopard.

"This is not a sighting that anyone wants to see or anyone wants to have happen in a national park, especially with a leopard," Stevens said.

The Hyundai moved forward shortly afterwards and ran over the leopard. The leopard then got up and limped and lay down on a patch of grass by the road, where it was later put down.

Moving the leopard was not an option given it's condition and injuries.

Second leopard attack in 15 years

This was the second such incident involving a leopard in the last 15 years. The first took place on September 14 2003, involving a young female leopard in good condition who seriously injured a guide by biting him in the calf.

"There were strong indications that she had been habituated through feeding... By habituated we mean being fed by people, losing their fear of people for social reasons," he said.

The investigation found no harassment of the leopard took place during or prior to the attack, with the reasons for its unusual behaviour not being known.

He said a video on social media created an impression that the leopard was boxed in. 

"At the place where the leopard was, was at the end of the queue of the cars. It was confirmed that there was no boxing in or harassment of the animal before the incident." 

Plumb, who was wearing a thick jacket at the time of the attack which prevented him from being seriously injured, was expected to make a full recovery. 

It was also confirmed that the driver of the Hyundai never intended to drive over the leopard.

He had fully co-operated with the investigation, had his son take a video of himself to give an account of the accident shortly after it happened, and reported it to authorities.

"There was no evidence that this guy did it intentionally," Stevens said.

Read more on:    sanparks  |  mbombela  |  animals

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