Pietermaritzburg - A Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park employee was attacked and killed by a lioness apparently infected with tuberculosis on Monday morning.
The employee, a water attendant at the park for over 16 years, had been working with colleagues out in the park when the lioness, which was four metres away from him, pounced.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife spokesperson Musa Mntambo said yesterday that by the time staff killed the lioness, the man had already sustained critical injuries, of which he died a few hours later. “The man sustained injuries to his neck and thighs. A case was opened at the Hlabisa police station.
“The family is traumatised by the incident and the park has organised counselling for them.”
Mntambo said the park had confirmed a few cases of TB in the lions at the facility.
“We cannot say how many lions have TB, but it is confirmed that some of them have contracted the illness,” he said.
Mntambo said there had been incidents of animals attacking humans at the park over the years, but it was not a common occurrence. The most recent incidents before yesterday’s death were a lion attack three years ago and a hippo attack before that.
Wildlife disease vet Dr Dewald Keet said iMfolozi had had trouble with TB since the 1980s.
“Lions contract bovine TB from the buffalo they eat,” he said.
“The lions that are infected can usually live with the illness for a while, but then the TB spreads to the bones, the joints, and sometimes the lungs.
“This will make the lion weak and they are then expelled from their pride.”
Once they had been expelled, they hunted for the prey that was easiest to catch.
“From past experience, it is not very likely that lions attack humans. However, if it was … infected with TB, there would be a greater chance of them attacking a human.”
Keet said iMfolozi’s original lion population was almost completely exterminated due to TB and inbreeding, and the park had had to bring in new lions from different gene pools about 15 years ago.
Because no new lions had been introduced into the park since then, the lions could be susceptible to TB again.
“From a scientific and legal aspect, it must be confirmed that the lioness indeed had TB and not another disease,” said Keet.
Mntambo said an autopsy was to be conducted on the lioness.