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
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!'