Wednesday, May 28, 2008


May 26, 2008



Piet van der Walt reflects that he is lucky to be alive after being mauled by a leopard on Thursday evening. His skin was ripped off from forehead to neck, and his arm was hurt in the fall

Paul Jennings, husband of the Mpila camp manager, heard the scream and ran to assist. He was able to scare off the leopard

Dave Savides

WATCHED by his nine year-old grand-daughter, a Richards Bay man survived being clawed to the ground in a leopard attack on Thursday evening. Piet van der Walt, a retired master builder and a long-time Richards Bay Rotary Club member, was counting his blessings after having escaped with relatively minor injuries from what could have been a fatal attack. From his hospital bed, he told the Zululand Observer the story of his dramatic brush with death at Mpila camp in Hluhluwe game park.
'My children had flown out from the UK and Australia for a family wedding and the group of us, 10 adults and four children, spent two nights at Mpila.
'On the second night they were all in their tents and I was making a potjie as the sun went down,' said Van der Walt, fondly known as 'Piet Pompies' to his many friends.
'I was on a chair with my back facing towards the bush to shield the fire from the wind.

'As I watched my grand-daughter Jessica approach to about three metres from me, I was suddenly pulled backwards from the chair as the leopard clawed my forehead. We had seen hyena earlier and my first thought as I was pulled down was that this was a hyena attack.
'I screamed and with blood running all over me I ran towards the tents.'

Frantic race
Fortunately Jessica had run away first and was able to describe the animal 'with spots and a long tail'.
Piet's scream of shock as a huge flap of skin was ripped loose from his forehead to the back of his neck roused family members and staff at the camp to begin a frantic race to stabilise him and rush him to the Bay Hospital.
Piet's daughter Christie, a staff nurse, stemmed the massive flow of blood and packed his head with towels.
Her husband, well known Zululand hockey personality Mark Shirley, drove Piet to the Bay Hospital.
'Ironically, we had gone to the park hoping to see lions, and as we exited through the gate, there was a young lion in the road,' said Piet.
Along the way a call was made to his golfing partner, Dr Frank van Niekerk, who awaited their arrival at hospital. Piet was taken to surgery for treatment and cleaning of the gaping wound.
'The doctor told me he stopped counting stitches after 100.
'My big fear after the attack was that I would die from loss of blood,' said Piet, who added that he had not felt pain at any stage and was surprised at how calm he was throughout the incident.
While the risk of infection was a concern, he was also receiving treatment in case of rabies.

Shone in eyes
The story was also taken up by Paul Jennings, husband of the Mpila camp manager, who visited Piet in hospital on Friday.
'I heard his scream and ran out.
'While everyone was attending to Piet's injuries I walked around with a torch and a gun.
'Not 15 metres from the scene the beam shone onto the leopard's face,' said Paul.
'It sank down and crouched, ready to spring on me; I kept the torch shining on his face and fired warning shots and it ran off.'
Environmentalists believe the leopard's uncharacteristic behaviour indicated that it may have been suffering an injury and was looking for easy prey.
This is the first such incident recorded at the camp.
Piet, meanwhile, realises how close the call was.
'Just the night before I stood at the same spot and said a prayer in Zulu, thanking God that my family was here together in this beautiful place in Africa.
'He has reminded me to appreciate life even more.'
Still retaining his sense of humour, he added: 'At least Jessica will go back to Australia with the most amazing story to tell - of how her Oupa survived a leopard attack in darkest Africa!'



  1. Anonymous10:29 PM

    I live in England and have lived in South Africa and been to Hluhluwe and Umfolozi many times as well as other game parks.

    Please excuse me from contradicting the camp manager's husband, Paul Jennings, but I think it is wrong to say the leopard's attack was out of character.

    More likely, the leopard smelled the cooking and was attracted to the camp and saw what to him was prey sitting there. We humans must accept we are food to the carnivors and that is it.

    To be cooking in an open camp where there is no fencing and there are predators in the vicinity means an attack is inevitable eventually.

    Reading on the internet there are often close calls whether leopard or lion, or even hyena.

    Very pleased to hear Mr van der Walt is on the mend though, perhaps next time there should be be a guard.

  2. Hi

    I do not have the full details of the story.

    I rather think that cooking meat or food on an open fire and the smell of human sent should waken the prime evil fear with Animals. The fear of the unkown, their natural fear for humans.

    From many years experience as Tour Guide and as a person that grew up amongst nature it commonly excepted, that when feeding wild animals, they loose their natuaral fear for humans.

    This fear is replaced with knowladge of human smell equals food. Since Leopards are not scavengers as monkeys, mangoose and other critters, it is highly unlikely that this animal has lost its natuaral fear for human in such a manner.

    Thus the assamption by the camp managers husband that the Leopard was acting out of caracter is quite acceptiable...

    Thanks for the comment...

    Please note that wild animals are exactly that... wild and unpridictable... please do not feed them...

  3. Anonymous5:14 PM

    Editor, thank you very much for your courteous response.

    I have travelled to Etosha, in fact through Namibia bottom to top, including through the Namib, Botswana, Mocambique and many many times to game reserves in South Africa. Last time I flew from here and stayed at Mala Mala, which was wonderful.

    I must confess that I agree that problems must be caused by foolish visitors allowing animals to eat their food. I would not dream of doing it. There is the old story of feeding a crocodile!

    I too worked for years in the safari business.

    Attacks are rare but they happen, more than people know of. Because of my interest I read a lot.

    In Botswana recently, a tourist was shaken by a lioness and her two cubs trying to enter his (closed), tent.

    I was close friends with Colin Mathews, of the story of the lioness climbing in the window of a rondavel in Hwange in 1972.

    As he recounted the story to me, they had been curing biltong, which attracted the lioness and the visitors had left their window open. A man was killed and two people were badly injured.

    There is the story in about 1990, of a women in a reserve in Kwazulu at a barbecue, going back to her room to collect her sandals and being taken by a lioness on the pathway.

    You don't know whether the leopard in your story had ever eaten human, maybe a poacher even. Certainly game reserves remove the fear.

    I was not suggesting the leopard was scavenging, only it smelt something good, then found potential food, sitting down with its back to the bush.

    Predators often come into camp when things are quiet at night. What attracts them if it is not smell? They must know there are humans around. Mostly they go when they don't find anything.

    Nice talking to you and as I say, I adore Southern Africa and love going on safari.

    It is time for another visit.

    Thank goodness Mr van der Walt was not taken by lion.

  4. Dear Anonymous

    Due to the nature of this blog, i cannot put forward my personal views...

    feel free to contact me on