A young woman was mauled to death by a lion at well-known "lion whisperer," Kevin Richardson's refuge in South Africa. The incident reinforces the reality that humans and lions do not mix, despite what Richardson's media presence might suggest.
Kevin Richardson has become famous for his close interactions with adult lions. He has even garnered the questionable nickname "Lion Whisperer" for his social media exploits with the big predators.
Tragically, a young woman, age 22, was recently mauled to death by a lion on Richardson's refuge.
The unnamed woman was attacked at the Dinokeng Game Reserve outside of Pretoria. Richardson was taking three lions on a walk through the reserve when the lion ran off to pursue an antelope.
The lioness encountered the young woman around a mile and a half from where she initially took off. "The young woman was not a guest at the camp," said Richardson, "but had accompanied her friend to conduct an interview for an assignment with the camp's manager. Before leaving the reserve, the two visitors were taking photographs outside the camp where the attack occurred."
Nick Dollman, a spokesman for the paramedics who desperately tried to save the woman, said: "The injuries were very severe, it was a deadly attack. The friend with the victim watched it happen, but was not hurt, but must have been in a terrible state emotionally."
Catawba College professor and National Geographic explorer and big cat conservationist, Luke Dollar, says that people traveling through lion territory must always remain alert and "acutely aware of our place in the food chain."
Some private game preserves offer "walks" where people can walk in close proximity to the big cats. This is an extremely dangerous practice, according to Dollar.
"While it may be a thrilling experience for a person to do, and they may think they are helping wildlife by doing so, I don't see an obvious connection," Dollar says. "If we love these cats so much why do we feel the need to touch them or hug them or walk with them, as though that is a natural occurrence?"
"Behaviors and programs that skirt the reality of our place in the food chain seem to be an accident waiting to happen," he says.
Richardson has used his experiences with lions to champion the plight of the big cats. He is particularly opposed to canned hunting operations for lions. But he has his critics too. Many people suggest that Richardson's close association with the predators is foolhardy. They say it gives a false impression that lions can be domesticated.
Lions are extremely dangerous wild animals. Some also believe that the lion whisperer will someday butt up against that harsh reality.
"I have been accepted as part of the pride," Richardson once said. "But I have to be very careful. They are large animals and are very good at telling you how they feel."
Richardson said he was devastated by the young woman's death. He called the tragedy a "terrible, and unfortunate incident."
The website for Richardson's preserve promises visitors, "you will enjoy the spectacular African bush and come face-to-face with majestic lions and hear their magnificent roars at night."
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