A South African conservationist has been killed by lions he hand-reared. West Mathewson, 69, was walking two white lionesses on Wednesday when one of the animals attacked and killed him without warning, his family said on Thursday.
The incident took place on the premises of the family-owned Lion Tree Top Lodge, in South Africa’s northern Limpopo province.
Known as “Uncle West”, Mathewson had raised the lions since they were cubs and was used to interacting with them.
Mathewson’s wife Gill, 65, was driving behind her husband when the lion attacked. “She tried her best to rescue her husband, but was unable to do so,” family attorney Marina Botha said in a statement.
In 2017, the two white lions reportedly escaped from the lodge and killed a man working at a neighbouring property, Ngama Lodge. Mathewson said at the time that the lions were not aggressive and that he walks with them three to four hours a day.
The lions have be temporarily moved to a facility while a decision on their future is made. The family assured they would be “released into the best environment available to them”.
Mathewson is believed to have rescued the lions from “canned hunting” – when animals are hunted in an enclosed area, or are bred for hunting.
Mathewson and his wife had four sons and six grandchildren.
“The family is heartbroken by the loss of their husband, father and grandfather,” the statement from Botha said. “They find comfort and peace with the fact that he died while living his dream, being in nature and with his lions.”