The tragic leopard attack in the Kruger National Park this week that cost a young family their only child “happened in seconds”.
These were the words of Cebile Thobela (24), the mother of two-year-old Courtney, who was killed by a leopard at the Malelane Camp’s staff quarters on Wednesday night.
Cebile and her husband, Isaiah Ntimane (35), were having a braai with friends at their home when the incident happened.
Isaiah went into the house to check something on the TV, but he didn’t know Courtney had followed him.
“It all happened in seconds,” said Cebile, who was mostly still too traumatised to speak about the loss of the couple’s cheerful son, and who has been unable to stop crying.
Courtney was rushed to Shongwe Hospital, but the toddler died in his father’s arms on the way to the hospital. His funeral will be held today.
Albert Smith, the game ranger responsible for the Malelane Camp, said the leopard attempted to jump over the camp’s fence with the child, but hit the top wire and fell back. The leopard then dropped Courtney.
Smith and another ranger immediately launched a search of the camp and, after establishing that the leopard was no longer within the perimeter, ventured into the park with spotlights and firearms in an attempt to track the animal down.
The spotlights are used to differentiate leopards’ eyes from those of other predators, such as lions and hyenas, which are also active at night.
“We found two leopards in different areas near the camp and shot both of them. A leopard is a challenging animal to handle, especially if you don’t have a firearm with you. They are incredibly sly animals, and if they had disappeared and struck again, we would struggle to locate them. We had to be dead certain the camp was safe,” he said.
Smith said the park’s policy was clear – if an animal becomes a problem, action has to be taken.
“Somebody had to take care of the task and, as the game ranger, it’s my responsibility. If a leopard has attacked a human being once, it will do it again. Human beings are easy prey and the scent of people becomes a lure. They are very focused hunters that look for controllable prey that they can hide from other predators, usually in a tree.”
He said leopards were impossible to control because they could jump more than 2m high and were not bothered by the fences that keep other predators out.
Both leopards that were shot were female. A postmortem confirmed that the tracks of the older of the two leopards matched those found at the scene of the attack. The animal’s stomach was also empty, which meant she was probably looking for food.
SA National Parks (SANParks) has faced criticism on social media for shooting both animals instead of darting them and moving them to another area, but Smith said this would not have been wise.
“That really isn’t an option because leopards fight for the territory they’re in from the moment they’re born, so if a leopard is moved, they’ll simply fight the leopard in the area they’re moved to – usually until one of them is killed – or they’ll simply return to the area they came from.”
SANParks spokesperson Ike Phaala said the park had to take immediate action and shoot a leopard after a similar incident in the park’s Skukuza Camp in 2003.
TALK TO US
Do you think wild animals in game reserves should be killed if they attack humans?
SMS us on 35697 using the keyword LEOPARD and tell us what you think. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50. By participating, you agree to receive occasional marketing material