Shamba the lion is just another victim of humans over-familiarising themselves with predators in the name of "conservation". Michael Hodge, 72, the owner of Marakele Predator Centre near Thabazimbi in South Africa's Limpopo province claims to have "bottle-raised" the lion since birth but turned on him, dragging and mauling him in the enclosure.
Hodge was visiting Shamba’s protective camp, as usual, when he was attacked. Tourists were outside the camp in a protected vehicle. Pictures from the website show that visitors remain in their protected vehicle while the lions are then let out to roam around the car. Hodge can be seen getting out of the vehicle to open the camp's gate before they drive out "someone outside the camp will then take Shamba’s attention off so that he walks away from the vehicle and the gate. Mike does this regularly. Shamba mysteriously turned around on Saturday." The video then shows Hodge turning around to walk out but Shamba runs and catches him before he can get into safety behind the fence. The lion is then seen dragging Hodge by his neck across the field while desperate visitors scream for help.
Family spokesperson, Bernadette Maguire, told News24 on Wednesday morning that Hodge was recovering in hospital, but he was still traumatised after the incident. He sustained injuries to his neck and jaw and the lion has been put down after the attack. She said: "He is very upset about the loss of Shamba and I think he is trying to put up a brave face, but he is really battling to come to terms [with] what has happened. "The prognosis is looking good, provided that his infection stays under control. His wounds have been left open in order to ensure that the infection does not set into his body."
She also said that Hodge was “only too aware of the dangers of working with wildlife but they remain his passion”. He is currently still in the Milpark hospital and has even been able to walk for the first time since the attack with the help of his physiotherapist.
Mr Hodge set up the animal sanctuary with his wife, Chrissy Hodge, in 2010. The sanctuary offers a “lion mobile” trip where the lions can be seen by tourists who travel through the sanctuary in a caged truck. The website advertises the trip saying: “Come and take a ride on the wild side in our purpose built lion truck. I can promise you that Shamba will jump up and look you in the eyes, he also sits on the top of the truck whilst we take the drive through the camp.”
While caging tourists who want to get a closer look at animals, rather than the predator themselves is a step in a positive direction but there are far too many incidences of ecotourism gone wrong.