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From The Electronic Telegraph, London


Big cats get a taste for illegal migrants

By Christopher Munnion in Johannesburg
August 26, 1998

ILLEGAL immigrants from Mozambique attempting to cross the Kruger National Park to seek work in South Africa are being blamed for turning the reserve's lions and leopards into maneaters.

Rangers say the predators, particularly the large cats, have found humans wandering about on foot to be much easier targets than even the smallest antelopes, which form their normal diet.

Dr Willem Gertenbach, Kruger's nature conservation manager, said:"The problem is not the lions but the illegal immigrants. The big cats have not so much acquired the taste for human flesh but developed an instinct that people on foot are much easier to stalk and catch than, say, an impala."

This was particularly true of older animals finding it difficult to hunt. The leopard that attacked, killed and ate a tour guide in the park at the weekend was found to be very old and desperately hungry. The guide, Charles Swart, 25, was conducting a night game-viewing drive near Malelane, in the south of the Kruger, a reserve the size of Wales. He had stopped the vehicle on a bridge and had walked only a few yards when the leopard pounced on his back, causing him to drop his rifle. After failing to frighten the animal away the tourists drove to a nearby camp for help and armed rangers tracked and shot the leopard as it was still feeding on the guide's body.

No blame was attached to Mr Swart, the park's management or to the leopard. But the number of animal attacks on humans has increased sharply in recent years in direct proportion to the growing number of Mozambicans who try to cross the park to find a better life in South Africa.

Last month a ranger found 11-year-old Emelda Nkuna wandering in the bush near Punda Maria. She had set out from a Mozambique village to walk to South Africa with her mother and two sisters, who had been attacked by a pride of lions. She had hidden in the hole of a burrowing animal and heard her mother being eaten. Rangers later found her mother's remains but there was no trace of her sisters.

Seven other Mozambicans are known to have been attacked and eaten by lions in the past two years. "There's a good possibility that many more refugees have died because sometimes we find abandoned luggage and torn clothes," Dr Gertenbach said.

Park rangers are obliged to track and kill predators that have attacked humans. A ranger said: "A lion or leopard becomes a potential maneater once it loses its natural fear of humans."

Last year, 2,600 illegal Mozambicans were arrested in the Kruger. The ranger said: "Unless action is taken by the governments concerned to stem this flow, we are going to have an ever increasing maneater problem."

© Copyright Telegraph Group Limited 1998

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