Lion fatally mauls woman at refuge of South African ‘lion whisperer’

FILE - In this Wednesday March 15, 2017 file photo, Kevin Richardson, known as the "lion whisperer", takes two of his lions for a walk in the Dinokeng Game Reserve, near Pretoria, South Africa. A lion, who mauled a young woman to death, was under the care of Richardson, known for his close interactions with the predators in his animal sanctuary. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell, File)

A lion that mauled a young woman to death in South Africa was under the care of a man known as the “lion whisperer” for his close interactions with the predators.

The 22-year-old woman, who has not been named, was mauled by a female lion on Tuesday at a game lodge north of Pretoria. The woman sustained critical injuries and died at the scene.

Kevin Richardson, who keeps lions at his animal sanctuary in the Dinokeng Game Reserve, said on Facebook that he and an “experienced” colleague took three lions for a walk in the reserve on Tuesday and that one chased an impala, eventually encountering the woman at least 1.2 miles away.

Richardson said he followed procedure before the weekly excursion by assessing the area for other “big five” animals, a designation that includes rhino, elephant, buffalo, leopard and lion, and sending out a “notification” that he was walking with lions.

The woman died at a tented camp run by Richardson, who said he was “devastated” by the killing.

“The young woman was not a guest at the camp, but had accompanied her friend to conduct an interview for an assignment with the camp’s manager,” he said. “Before leaving the reserve, the two visitors were taking photographs outside the camp where the attack occurred.”

Underlining the dangers posed by the big cats, Richardson recently posted a picture of claw marks on his leg after he was caught between two fighting lions.

Police are investigating Tuesday’s fatal incident. The victim had joined a friend who went to the camp for a “school project,” said spokeswoman Constable Connie Moganedi. “When they were about to leave, the lioness attacked the young lady.”

The victim’s family is “traumatized,” said Moganedi, who declined to provide details about the victim.

Richardson’s wildlife sanctuary is one hour’s drive north east of Johannesburg and half an hour from Pretoria, according to its website. The sanctuary is made up of 13 “predator enclosures” and a large “central enrichment area” to which the lions are rotated through every couple of weeks.

The 3,200-acre facility predominantly houses adult lions. No lions are bred at the sanctuary, the website says.

The management of the Dinokeng reserve said the woman was killed “within a conservation section that is not accessible to the general public” but lies within the reserve’s boundaries.

“The lion that was involved with this fatality was not one of the wild free-roaming lions of the Dinokeng Game Reserve,” the management said.

It is not clear what will happen to the lioness that fatally mauled the 22-year-old woman although the animal may reportedly be killed.