The British owner of a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa has been severely mauled by a lion he hand-reared from a cub in an attack witnessed and filmed by his tourist clients.
Michael Hodge, who is 71, was attacked as he walked into the enclosure of the Marakele Animal Sanctuary’s star attraction, a male lion named Shamba.
Video footage of Saturday’s incident shows Mr Hodge, who moved to South Africa in 1999, walking in a relaxed manner towards the lion whilst a ranger outside the fence attempts to distract the animal.
Mr Hodge, who founded the sanctuary in South Africa’s Limpopo region with his wife Chrissy and her daughter Emma in 2010, was reportedly investigating a strange smell that had been upsetting the lion.
Suddenly, Mr Hodge is seen running for the gate of Shamba’s enclosure before being brought down just short, his body crashing against the fence.
A woman can be heard sobbing and screaming “Oh my god!” and “somebody help, please!” as the lion drags Mr Hodge away into a thicket.
Mr Hodge is heard to cry out: “help me please”. Shots ring out, fired by the ranger, prompting Shamba to drop the injured Mr Hodge.
The lion retreated a few yards from the bush where the Briton lay, but not far enough to allow a safe rescue attempt to be made.
Shamba was then killed, a family friend, Bernadette Maguire, said, before Mr Hodge was rushed to a clinic 3m away in the town of Thabazimbi.
He was later airlifted to a hospital in Johannesburg. Mrs Hodge said her husband had been hurt was now recovering. “He has a broken jaw and several lacerations, but is recovering well,” she said in a statement.
She added that the family were “devastated” over Shamba’s death. The lion, born in 2008, had been hand-reared since it was a month old, with Mrs Hodge nursing it through a near-fatal dose of colic, according to friends.
Shamba was one of the most popular of the dozen or so big cats housed in the sanctuary’s “predator park”. Tourists could pay an extra fee to be locked into a cage on the back of a pick-up vehicle.
Shamba had been trained to leap onto the cage to eat freshly slaughtered chickens hung from the bars. Tourists would then photograph Shamba from just inches away as the feathers flew.
“Come and take a ride on the wild side in our purpose-built Lion Mobile,” the sanctuary’s website reads. “I can promise you that Shamba will jump up and look you in the eye.”
Previous visitors and volunteers said that Mr Hodge had long experience with lions, having hand-reared three from cubs. One, a lioness named Nina, even slept on his bed, according to Emerita Abadilla, a former volunteer.
“She slept in Mike’s bed, washing his face and giving him a spit-bath daily at 3am,” she wrote in a blog post two years ago.
Apart from lions, the sanctuary also housed at least two tigers, a species not native to South Africa.
Some visitors to the sanctuary’s Facebook page criticised the manner in which Shamba was killed and the park run — but friends also came to Mr Hodge’s defence, saying he had a “special bond” with the dead lion.