'Lion whisperer' devastated after fatal lion attack on young woman


Joburg — A lion that mauled a young woman to death was under the care of the "lion whisperer", Kevin Richardson.

Richardson is well known for his close interactions with the predators in his animal sanctuary in the Dinokeng Game Reserve.

According to Facebook, Richardson and an "experienced" colleague took three lions for a walk in the reserve on Tuesday and  one chased an impala, eventually encountering the 22-year-old woman at least two kilometers (1.2 miles) away.

News24 reports Netcare911 spokesperson Nick Dollman says at 11:05 on Tuesday 27 February, paramedics were called to the Dinokeng Game Reserve.

"Reports from the scene allege that a 22-year-old female victim was attacked and mauled by a lioness. When Netcare 911 paramedics arrived at the scene bystanders had already initiated CPR," according to Dollman.


In a Facebook post Richardson said he followed procedure before the weekly excursion by assessing the area for other "big five" animals, a designation that includes rhino, elephant, buffalo, leopard and lion, and sending out a "notification" that he was walking with lions.

The woman died at a tented camp run by Richardson, who said he was "devastated" by the killing.

"The young woman was not a guest at the camp, but had accompanied her friend to conduct an interview for an assignment with the camp's manager," he said. "Before leaving the reserve, the two visitors were taking photographs outside the camp where the attack occurred."

The "intimate glam camp" with five tents is an hour's drive from Johannesburg's main international airport, according to Richardson's website.

'Conservation section not accessible to the public'

The management of the Dinokeng reserve said the woman was killed "within a conservation section that is not accessible to the general public" but lies within the reserve's boundaries.

"The lion that was involved with this fatality was not one of the wild free-roaming lions of the Dinokeng Game Reserve," the management said.

'Captive-bred lions a heightened threat to humans'

Some conservationists say captive-bred lions lose their fear of people and should not be released into the wild, partly because they pose a heightened threat to humans.

In an interview with The Associated Press last year, Richardson said he does not breed lions and that those on his 1 300-hectare (3 200-acre) property feed on donated carcasses of cattle and antelope. He said he hoped his hands-on interaction with lions, including caressing and cavorting, would help to highlight the plight of Africa's wild lions. Their numbers have plummeted over several decades.

Canned hunt rescues

Richardson campaigns against the South African industry in which customers kill captive-bred lions in relatively confined areas, and told the AP that many lions in his care were rescued from being transferred to facilities where the practice labeled by critics as "canned hunting" occurs.

"I have been accepted as part of the pride," he said in the interview. "But I have to be very careful. They are large animals and are very good at telling you how they feel.

'Highlights need to end non-conservation breeding'

Blood Lions, the powerful documentary that has critically highlighted the issue of South Africa's controversial canned lion hunting industry globally, also issued a statement saying, "It is with immense sadness that we hear of another incident involving someone killed by a lion on a captive predator facility in South Africa. The Blood Lions team sends condolences to all impacted by this tragedy.

"It is incidents such as this that reinforce our call for the end to all commercial exploitation of predators in the country. Lions are a wild species and should not be kept under conditions that reflect them as domestic, tame or playthings for our entertainment.

"To do so has little to no conservation benefit for the species, but it does put human life at risk and is not in the best welfare interests of the animals. Ultimately, it is why we also call for an end to the commercial and non-conservation breeding of lions and other predators." 

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