lionkruger2

Easy to spot the idiots here, no?

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A South African tour guide has denied responsibility for the death of his American client, who was mauled to death by a lioness while they drove through a game park near Johannesburg. Despite being warned repeatedly against it, she had her window rolled down and was busy clicking pictures and videos of the beast.

The victim of the attack was 29-year old Katherine Chappell, a video effects editor based in Vancouver who had gained a certain degree of fame by winning an Emmy for her work in the hit TV series “Game of Thrones”. The tour guide was taken to hospital with severe arm injuries, trying to save the woman and in the process, he also suffered a heart attack during the incident.

The park authorities maintain that visitors are warned repeatedly through sign posts, loudspeakers as well as radio, to keep windows shut at all times. They deny responsibility for the death, a stand that appears well justified in this case..

This was the latest of fairly regular attacks at the park, which is popular with both locals and foreigners.  In March, an Australian tourist was injured by a lion after driving through the park with his car windows open, in spite of the tour guide cautioning him not to. Two days later, a 13-year-old from a nearby slum was attacked by a cheetah while riding a bicycle through the grounds. In December 2013, former South African franchise rugby player Brett Tucker and his family were attacked by a lion and his father reportedly suffered minor injuries. Again, they were driving through with all windows rolled down, despite clear warnings not to drive with windows open.

If the warnings had been stamped on the tourists’ foreheads with a branding iron, they wouldn’t have been clearer.

I can almost see what Katherine Chapell was going to do once she had recorded the lioness walking up to her window and maybe sniffing around her camera. Excitedly, she would upload the videos all over Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram and whatever else she was logged into. Her photos and videos would be liked and shared a thousand times. Maybe with her special talents at video special effects, those posts would be truly awesome.

Instead, Katherine Chapell is dead and it is unfortunate. May her soul rest in peace. But there is no question that she was asking for it.

The lioness, a juvenile, got what she clearly did nothing to deserve. She was just being her natural self. Sadly however, she has now been put in a secure enclosure that is in a remote corner, not open to the public – a kind of forced solitary confinement. If she could think like us, she would be wondering what she did wrong. The others in the pride are still tooling around feet away from cars driving through. For them it’s business as usual and so it is, for the Park.

What exactly do tourists expect? That the papa lion in the pride would shake his mane and sigh, “I’ve told Sally to behave herself in front of tourists and now look what she went and did. Oh, what am going to do with her?”

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In Montebello, 150kms from where we live, there is a game park we visit often, known as Parc Omega. It is a small safari park  with a 12km drive-through route that is dotted by valleys, forests, lakes and rocky outcrops and teems with bear, moose, arctic wolves, racoons and thousands of varieties of birds.

At it’s center, Parc Omega has a beautiful chalet and restaurant, the entire façade of which is covered with moose antlers. If you don’t mind paying $12 for a hamburger trio, it’s a terrific brunch joint.

The park creators have tried to make it as natural as possible and so, the drive-through is rough and uneven. If you don’t have good tires, you could maybe go bowling instead. Trust me, being stuck with a flat tire in a wilderness that has more carnivores per square foot than even the Savannah, is not a very pleasant experience. Imagine if you felt you had to take a crap or a pee? Shudder!

The wolves are like malamutes, except that they are completely white and larger. If you stop your car and wait, one of them will walk up to you, the hairs on the back of his head erect and bristling, it’s mouth slightly open in a low snarl. It will stare at you with steely blue eyes for a while, before letting out a huge yawn that bares a set of terrifying cannines. The yawn will end in a ‘mooawwoo…awooo’ and he’ll turn away dismissively and stride off, like as if he’s saying to the others,” This one looks like a schmuck, Burt, we’ll hang on. The next one might be juicier.”

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Arctic wolf cubs at Parc Omega

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The wolves are magnificent specimens and you can’t help but gape at the sheer beauty of them. They walk around the cars in an almost casual, unhurried gait, looking uninterested, seemingly used to seeing humans at close quarters. They look so cute that the urge to step out and cuddle one is overpowering. But if you did, it would almost certainly be the last thing you would ever do, before being torn apart by the whole pack.

If you are visiting the park in summer, the bears are out, lazing around.  You won’t find a Yogi bear here. Hanna Barbara’s loveable bear, Yogi, is a Kodiak bear. The bears at Omega are a species known as the North American Black Bear. Extremely aggressive and massive, almost the same size as grizzlies, they can kill with just one hard swipe of their wrists.

Unlike the moose, the bears are inside an enclosure that is ringed by a ditch and a high embankment. To me the ditch looked easily scalable by even humans, let alone bears. Since the no-windows-down is strictly enforced, the park authorities must have felt that chain link fencing wasn’t necessary. Besides, these bears are extremely powerful. Nothing short of metal bars can stop them from breaching the enclosure.

Black bears are huge and weigh easily up to 550lbs and beyond, though the record is an 830lb hunk shot in New Jersey, 2011. If you shoot a black bear, you had better be somewhere out of the way, because even wounded, it will keep coming at you and crush you purely by it’s body weight.

Parc Omega (2)

Close, very close

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Black bears are highly dexterous, capable of easily twisting a car door handle to open it. They also have great physical strength. They have been known to lift rocks weighing up to 325 pounds by flipping them over with a single foreleg. When they decide to run, they move in a rhythmic, sure-footed gait and can reach speeds of up to 50 km/h. Black bears have good eyesight and have been proven experimentally to be able to learn visual discrimination tasks based on color faster than chimpanzees and as fast as dogs.

The last time I made it to Parc Omega, our car had stopped by the embankment and we were staring, fascinated at the sight of the huge beasts standing up on their hind legs and trying to swat at the stuff that tourists were chucking at them to get their attention. This must have been going on throughout the day and it was quite clear that the bears were pissed off.

One obviously sizzled young guy decided to get off his car and totter toward the embankment edge, a half drunk beer in his right hand. Immediately folk in all the other cars began screaming and clicking away on their cameras. All the bears gathered at the brink of the ditch, trying to figure out what all the hullaballoo was about. We sat in our car watching in utter disbelief as this ars—le reached the lip of the embankment and began gesturing at the nearest bear which also happened to be clearly the boss in the group.

The man swigged till he had emptied his bottle and then swung his arm and the bottle arced up in the air and fell far inside the enclosure. The bears must have been just a few yards from the guy. Two of the younger ones, adolescents maybe, detached themselves and went looking for the bottle, while papa bear glared back at him.

At this point, the idiot got back into his car and drove off. I wonder if he realized how close he had gotten, to being mauled to death.

If there had indeed been an attack, this is not South Africa. The youth’s family would have sued and settled out of court for thousands.

Should we have to mourn stupidity?