File photo: African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town – Rumours that a wild animal was responsible for ripping off the legs of a man in Jamestown, Stellenbosch, has the community and surrounding areas running scared, especially children.

However, community leader Cyril Hector, 70, told the Cape Times it was "impossible" that a leopard or any other predator was responsible for the 62-year-old man's death. 

He hopes that the inquest to determine the cause of death will clear up the matter once and for all because the incident has traumatised the community, with the rumours spreading more panic. Hector said the police had visited the scene again on Thursday.

Hector said the deceased was a "kind man who didn't bother other people and had a love for woodwork". He was originally from the Eastern Cape and had no family in the area since his wife left in 2012 after falling ill.

In the early hours of Tuesday, police and the emergency services were called to bushes where the body the Jamestown resident was found by residents near the Mountainview informal housing settlement. 

While Jafét Maclean said in an email yesterday that "I received information that the gentleman's death was indeed caused by a Cape mountain leopard", Hector insists that no predator would devour a body in this manner. 

What concerned Maclean was that the incident happened "about 500 metres or less from a neighbourhood. This is critical information that the people of Jamestown need to know as these animals prey on the weak and vulnerable".

Maclean added: "I also need to say in the same breath that another very interesting fact is that the farms surrounding this area are the main cause of these animals moving into the neighbourhoods, because their habitat are being destroyed, this in turn means big prey animals are vey scarce.

"This will also be detrimental to the animal well being because people will see it as a threat and pursue it to kill it, if I'm not mistaken then the Cape mountain leopard are actually an endangered species so it needs to be protected at all cost."

Hector called for circumspection, saying: "I've been staying in the Jamestown area since 2007 and often walk alone fetching wood. I've never seen a wild cat or signs of a wild animal in the area. 

"There was no way it could've been a leopard. I've got experience with wildlife. The first thing a lion or a tiger, for example, does is they dig their claws into your back and try to rip your throat out. After that it goes for the soft meat of the stomach and intestines before they do anything else. 

"They would also completely devour the body until only the carcass is left. In this instance, the legs have been severed and a foot was lying to one side with a sock on, with his clothes lying in a heap. His upper body was unscathed and it's only the legs that were missing.

"I've never before seen that a tiger, a lion or a cheetah grabs your legs and leaves the rest of your body alone. It's impossible, that's very difficult to accept. It's also not possible that they wouldn't leave any scratches on your body.

"The incident also happened close to where people are living but no one heard any screams."

Commenting on the hysteria that the incident has created, Hector said: "With our community hearing that it was a tiger or some wild animal responsible for killing the man, pupils as far as Eikendal don't want to go to school. They have been traumatised by the idea that a predator is preying on people in the area.

"This idea has been planted in the minds of the children and this is affecting the whole community. When the sun goes down, people are too scared to leave their homes."

Asked if there was a crime problem in the area, Hector, aside from the usual petty crime, couldn't recall any recent murders in the area, aside from "in 2011 when they found a body on the other side by Blouklip in the bush". 

According to the Kruger National Park's website, "the leopard's hunting technique is to either ambush its prey or to stalk it. It then makes a brief and explosive charge (up to 60km/h), pouncing on its prey and dispatching it with a bite to the neck". 

"Leopards are capable of carrying animals heavier than themselves and will often drag their prey into the fork of a tree several metres off the ground."

Cape Times