Camping in SA not for sissies: leopard captured after camper bitten in the face by hyena

2016-03-08 12:30 - Selene Brophy
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Cape Town - Dave Cooper, aka the Wild Vet, describes his work as passionate, commitment, blood, sweat & many tears  in trying to make a difference in African wildlife conservation - so you can imagine what his week was like when he received a call that a man had been bitten by a hyaena, while he was asleep in his tent at Cape Vidal.

The Zululand Observer reports PJ Theron was attacked in his tent while sleeping.

When animals attack humans, especially in recreational areas used by humans, never mind if it happens to be the home of said wild animal - things never quite end well for the animal. 

Thankfully says Cooper, the attack wasn't life-threatening but "a hyaena with a penchant for biting people isn't really what one wants in a campsite". Cape Vidal is one of the many camping and accommodation offerings located within World Heritage Site, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

The incident took place on Tuesday 1 March and Cooper was called in to set a trap to capture the animal. While they had little luck the first night, the next night the trap was set off - not by a hyena but by a great big leopard "who was none too happy to be trapped in a cage", says Cooper.

"I was called in the wee hours of the day to please come and dart it - easier said than done with the tight metal grid too small to get a dartgun barrel through it. Which meant placing the gun right up against the cage while an enraged beast was doing its best to get to me."

"The campers waking up to the furore must have wondered if they were living in a Nat Geo episode, "says Cooper.

Anyway, I managed, and we moved the animal some distance away and released him (albeit with a bloody red nose for his fighting efforts, as you can see in the pics).

According to Cooper leopards have been living amongst men forever, and certainly in that camp area for decades without any reports of attacks.

However the problem is compounded when "visitors feed animals or leave food accessible to scavengers which results in overly habituated animals and the ensuing negative encounters".

"And often, they are really signing the animal's death warrant because ultimately they may have to be destroyed when things turn ugly," says Cooper.

While you might be thinking how safe could camping in a game reserve be - Cooper says he'd much rather sleep in the bush than Johannesburg any day.

"It's about a million times safer! It's an absolute privilege to be able to do so. And just think how many people go to Mana Pools and other wild unfenced places just to get back to nature... But if it's too scary, maybe go to an Aventura holiday resort where the only risk is the pee in the pool." 

And if the comments left by some of the Wild Vets followers on his Facebook are anything to go by, these campers and wildlife adventure seekers wouldn't have it any other way.

Charlene Venter says," Wildlife Vet heroes to our wild animals! Ultimately people must realise you are camping in a wild animal's backyard..respect the wild and leave nothing but footprints!" 

While Jenny Dickson says, "This is what we love about Africa." 

Norman Harper says, "And that's why I love camping in the wild and especially Bots because the camps are unfenced..." 

Another follower, Simone Du Plessis Bom-Schweimer says, "Great work #wildvet, would have loved to witness all of that! Please keep us updated re Hyena!" 

Cooper confirmed the search continues for the hyena suspected of attacking Theron, but urged all campers to not leave food out to temp the animals, as a precautionary measure.

"The hyena seems to be spooked, it was spotted at about 03:00 in the morning briefly, but we have another trap up and rangers are on constant patrol in the area," Cooper says. 

Moral of the story - camping in South Africa is not for sissies.

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