By Justin Arenstein

The only son of South Africa's most influential conservation family, Boyd Varty, narrowly escaped death in a crocodile attack this week.

The 19 year old was grabbed by a 2.5-metre crocodile in "crystal clear" knee-deep water while picnicking with foreign friends on the banks of the Sand River, within the exclusive Sabi Sands reserve, last Monday.

Shocked friends and an armed ranger watched helplessly as the predator lunged from a shady pool under a nearby tree and tried to drag Varty out into deeper water.

He managed to fight free, however, and was immediately airlifted to Nelspruit's MediClinic private hospital for emergency treatment.

"It was incredibly quick, with the attack taking only seconds.The only reason Boyd wasn't more seriously injured is because he managed to grab onto the root of a fig tree.

"If he hadn't and the croc had pulled him into deeper water, it would have twisted his leg right off at the knee," said his father, renowned conservationist Dave Varty.

"It was a very near thing, but Boyd has always had an interesting life."

Witnesses add that Varty junior appeared to have thrust his leg down the crocodile's throat, effectively choking the predator and forcing it to release him.

Varty, who has spent the past year travelling in South America, was discharged from hospital on Thursday.

Dr Johan Pansegrouw, his surgeon, confirmed that no ligaments were torn and no other lasting injuries were sustained.

"He will, however, have a fairly nasty scar," said Pansegrouw.

The attack is the first of its kind recorded on Sabi Sands, where the Vartys maintain a family home near their exclusive 7 000 hectare Londolozi Reserve on the western border of the Kruger National Park.

Tourists to Londolozi and other Sabi Sands reserves are not allowed to swim or venture into the Sand rivers, but concessions are made for local residents.

Dave Varty said the attack was actually a "good sign".

"It proves that crocodile populations are recovering from near extinction from the area in the 1960s.

"Water quality has improved, as have local conservation practices. We don't consider this specific crocodile a problem animal, and will therefore not shoot it," he said.

His son, who used crutches when he left hospital on Thursday, has not yet commented on the attack, but hospital spokeswoman Robyn Freathy said he was upbeat and did not appear overly traumatised. - African Eye News Service