JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – South African wildlife workers drove through the night across sand and dunes, desperate to save two lions who had strayed from a vast park and killed a farmer’s cow, a parks spokeswoman said Wednesday. The farmer had already killed a third lion.
Instead of saving the big cats, a park researcher rescued a ranger, pulling him free and leaving the ranger’s boot in the lion’s jaws, South African National Parks spokeswoman Henriette Engelbrecht said. She said the two lions then had to be shot and killed.
Tuesday’s events near the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, which stretches across 3.6 million hectares (8.9 million acres) in South Africa and Botswana, left the rangers “very disappointed and very shocked,” Engelbrecht said. Rangers Micho Ferreira and Albert Bojane and researcher Graeme Ellis said they had never before met with lions bold enough to attack people in a vehicle, she said. Their truck was left covered in blood, dents and scratches.
Bojane, who had been riding on the back of the truck, was recovering Wednesday with injuries to an arm and a foot. Ellis left the truck’s cab to pull Bojane into its safety after the attack.
“This surely was an act of bravery,” Ferreira, who was driving the truck, said of Ellis’s action in a report on the incident.
Parts of the two-thirds of the park in Botswana are not fenced, which can lead to tense encounters between cattle farmers and some of the park’s 400 lions. Engelbrecht said that as soon as rangers hear of a lion on the loose, they head out to tranquilize it and bring it to a special area surrounded by an electric fence. Once the lions learn to keep clear of fences, they are rereleased into fenced areas of the park.
In the last two years, 11 lions have been recovered without trouble, Engelbrecht said.
“It’s a chase through dunes and sand,” she said. “It’s difficult work, where people put their lives at risk to conserve.”
After getting a call Monday night about the two lions having killed a cow, rangers headed to the farm in Botswana. Tuesday morning, the farmer joined them on the hunt in his own vehicle. The rangers were armed with only dart guns, so had to ask the farmer to kill the lions after the attack, Engelbrecht said.
Ferreira said the lions may have been aggressive because they had been shot at before. Or, he said, they may have been living in such an isolated part of the park that they didn’t know humans well enough to fear them.