With at least 28 injured people and 12 deaths in South Africa, the “time has clearly come” for legislation to be enacted to end all public interactions with carnivores.
“There is no justifiable rationale for the public to be interacting with carnivores in captivity, risking people’s lives,” said a group of conservation organisations in an open letter to Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa yesterday.

Should the government continue to turn a blind eye, more people would be injured or killed, warned the Endangered Wildlife Trust, Blood Lions, Panthera, Wild Trust, National Association of Conservancies, Stewardship of SA and WildlifeACT.

“It is clear the current system is flawed and a failure to react rapidly to protect people would be negligent.”

Last weekend, Michael Hodge was mauled by a 10-year-old lion he hand-reared since birth at the Thabazimbi Predator Park.

“It’s with grave concern that the undersigned organisations, note that yet another person has been seriously injured by a captive carnivore in South Africa”. But this incident, it said, was not isolated.

Records showed that at least 37 similar incidents happened since 1996 affecting “no less” than 40 victims. “This figure reflects only those incidents that have been reported in the media and hence there could be more.”

The organisations stated that of the 37 known incidents:

* Forty victims were involved, 28 were injured and 12 killed. Fourteen (38%) involved captive cheetahs;

* Twenty-two (60%) involved captive lions;

* One incident involved a captive tiger;

* 92% of fatalities were by lions; 46% of all lion attacks were fatal. These incidents involved 13 women, 18 men and nine children.

“These incidents are geographically widespread: Limpopo: nine; Eastern Cape: eight; Gauteng: six; North West Province: four; KwaZulu-Natal: four; Western Cape: two; and one unknown. These incidents occurred in a variety of ways, with the most common attacks occurring while people were inside the camps with the carnivores (24 incidents). Four incidents involved people being attacked through a fence.

On three occasions, the animals had escaped, while on another three, the victims were inside or on a vehicle.

Three other incidents involved the victim trespassing – attacked by released captive cheetahs.

“Members of the conservation sector have been expressing concern about captive facilities where these interactions take place for more than 10 years because they have no conservation value.”

The organisations said there were not adequate safety regulations in place to protect tourists and facility staff. Welfare standards were often compromised or not regulated or monitored, and were further complicated by unclear mandates on welfare between the departments of Environmental Affairs and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

The links to shooting of captive lions and the bone trade were negatively impacting on South Africa’s conservation image.

“There are clearly significant risks posed by the interactions between humans and captive carnivores, and it’s worrying that despite this, the sector remains ineffectively regulated,” the open letter stated.

“There are no regulations governing which carnivores may be kept in captivity, or why; by whom and for what purpose; under which conditions and with what activities related to them.

“It is highly probable that the incidences of injury or death from interactions with captive carnivores will continue.”

The letter called on the government to institute strict regulations for the management of all carnivores held in captivity.

This would ensure that only qualified, experienced people had access to these animals and that no risks were posed to either human or animal life by unrestricted, unregulated access.