Mpumalanga - A man who died days after being mauled by a lion did not succumb to his wounds, the Mpumalanga health department said.
Department spokesperson Dumisani Malamule said on Wednesday that Qebekhulu Justice, who was injured by the lion at a Hoedspruit lodge seven days ago, died due to "other diseases".
He was declared dead on Monday at the Rob Ferreira Hospital in Nelspruit where he was recovering from the attack.
"His death cannot be attributed to the lion attack," Malamule said.
He said Justice had diabetes, but would not confirm his other ailments.
Justice, 46, was attacked by a lion on January 12.
Screams heard by colleague
Police spokesperson Sergeant Livhuwani Mulaudzi said on Tuesday that Justice, along with a colleague employed at the Ngama Lodge, had been collecting wood in the veld.
According to the colleague, two lions – belonging to the Lion Tree Top Lodge in Hoedspruit - walked past them and the men continued collecting wood.
"The witness then moved [to another part of the veld to collect wood] when he heard Justice screaming. He approached and stood at a fence where he saw the lion was busy mauling the man while the other [lion] watched," Mulaudzi said.
The colleague started pelting the lions with stones and the two animals fled.
"He went to the man, picked him up and they walked to the compound where they called the owner of the lodge. An ambulance was called but the victim was eventually airlifted to [the hospital]."
Mulaudzi said the man was able to walk with the assistance of his colleague at the time.
His injuries included wounds to his legs, torso, stomach and chest.
'They just wanted to play'
Lion Tree Top Lodge spokesperson West Mathewson told News24 he did not believe that the lion had been attacking Justice, as he would have "been dead in five seconds".
"I think they just wanted to play with the guy," Mathewson said.
The lodge runs an educational awareness programme on lions, elephants and rhino.
The two lions were rescued from a breeder when they were only five days old and are used for educational purposes, he explained.
At two years old, the lions weigh about 180kg but are friendly and tame, Mathewson continued.
"I play with them every day for three to four hours and I walk them every day through the bush. I have never ever had any sort of problem with them."
'Perky' on Saturday, dead on Monday
It is believed that the lions escaped from their enclosure by climbing a tree and jumping over the fence.
Mathewson said his partner, who lives in Nelspruit, had gone to visit Justice every day during his hospital stay, taking him food and clothes.
"When we went to see him on Saturday afternoon, he was sitting up and perky, looking forward to being released. On Monday they said he was dead."
He insisted that the lions had never shown aggression, saying they were incredibly friendly animals.
"I have taken 2 000 people on walks with them for the past two years. I walk alongside them and they walk freely. People are however not allowed to touch them," Mathewson said.
The lions' enclosure has since been altered and the electrified fence around it has been extended, Mathewson said.
"There is no way they will get out now."