Not many people live to tell the tale of being caught in the jaws of a lion, but a Vryheid man has done just that.
Sabelo Mbense (27), from Emagcekeni in the farming village of Gluckstadt near Vryheid, who had never seen a lion in the flesh, had a lucky escape from a rogue lion that attacked him last Friday.
The lion has been on the loose in the Vryheid area for three months now.
Mbense said he left home around 6.30 pm on Friday night to meet up with a friend and then walk together to an evening church service when he came face to face with his worst nightmare.
“I heard a growling noise behind me and got a fright. I stopped and looked around. I saw the lion slowly emerging from behind the bushes until it stood in the middle of the road a short distance away from me.
“I just froze because I couldn’t believe that it was really a lion in front of me. I’ve only seen lions in magazines so I was more confused than scared,” he said.
The self-employed photographer said his friend, who he was supposed to meet up with, was watching from a far distance as the incident unfolded.
“The lion started walking towards me and I just panicked and ran. Luckily there is a peanut farm close by so I started climbing over the fence into the farm.
“As I was climbing the lion grabbed me and tore my jeans. I climbed higher and felt its teeth piercing the skin just under my right armpit and I just threw myself over the fence. I thought it was going to kill me,” he said.
He said he watched as the lion slowly walked back up the dusty road and eventually disappeared in the distance. Mbense then called a farmer from the neighbouring Mawana Game Reserve, where he assumed that the lion might have escaped from.
“The farmer came to help me and took me to hospital. He said the lion was not his and contacted Ezemvelo to intervene.”
Mbense said he was treated at Vryheid hospital and discharged. He went back for check-ups on Monday and was booked in to see a psychologist tomorrow as he was still very “shaken” by the incident.
“I still can’t believe what happened. The incident happened about 10 minutes away from my home so I still feel unsafe. I am even scared to go to the toilet outside and when I hear the dogs barking I think that the lion might be in our yard,” he said.
Mbense said his family and the entire community were all “amazed” by the fact that he had survived a lion attack.
“I’ve been told that not many people survive a lion attack. I feel very blessed and fortunate to have survived. God must have big plans for my life for Him to save me from the jaws of a lion.”
He said an Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife official came to take his statement on Saturday night but he has not heard anything from them since.
A game farm owner in the area, Christo Carolus, told The Witness that he has been involved in tracking the lion after it started killing his neighbour’s livestock three months ago.
“The lion had killed three of the neighbouring farmer’s calves. We informed Ezemvelo but they said there was not much they could do. We asked for permission to shoot the lion if sighted but they never got back to us.”
Carolus said last month a truck driver travelling from Vryheid towards Melmoth claimed to have seen two lions crossing the road under the railway bridge in the area.
“I got a call about the sighting of the lions at around 4 am and I organised other farmers and business owners in the area. We went looking for the lions but there was not a single trace of them.
“And then last week I heard that a local man was attacked by a lion. Something needs to be done about this loose lion before it attacks and kills other people,” he said.
Ezemvelo spokesperson Musa Mntambo confirmed to The Witness that there was indeed a lion on the loose. He said it was still unclear where the lion might have escaped from.
Ezemvelo conservation officer Jabulani Biyela said one lion was captured on a camera walking near a local game reserve.
Biyela said they were working with other private game farmers and other tracking companies to track the lion.
“We are doing everything we can to track the lion. We are highly dependent on information we get from the public and ask that anyone who sees the lion contacts us immediately,” he said.
Biyela can be reached on 082 708 8860. He also cautioned the public against walking alone at night.
The public is also urged to contact Captain Karl Erasmus from Gluckstadt police station on 082 419 6738 or 034 952 2106 if they have any information about the lion.
Captain Erasmus said the incident was reported to the police. He said Mbense had sustained four canine puncture wounds on his side under his armpit during the lion attack while walking on the main gravel road in the area.
“There was only a report of one lion but they allegedly found two lion prints, one big lion and a small lion, but it has not been confirmed that there are two lions as yet,” he said.