Two-year-old Courtney Ntimane was at his father’s cottage at the Malelane technical services living quarters in the park when he was attacked on Wednesday night. The leopard climbed over a tree next to the fence and jumped into the quarter’s yard around 8pm.
The distraught boy’s father Isaiah Ntimane, 35, who works as a water operator in the park, told The Star on Thursday that his wife and son came to visit him at work from Bushbuckridge, and the family were having a braai when the incident happened.
“I was walking to my cottage and he (Courtney) followed me. I didn’t notice that he was behind me because I left him there playing with his mother’s phone. And just when I got to my cottage and closing the door behind me, I heard screams coming from outside,” he said.
Ntimane said he rushed out to see what the commotion was about when he found his toddler hanging from the leopard’s jaws. He said the leopard attempted to drag Courtney with it over the fence but it failed and dropped the bleeding child and disappeared into the bushes.
“We rushed him to Shongwe Hospital, but when we arrived he was already dead. They put him on a bed and I looked into his eyes and saw no sign of life,” said the father.
Ntimane said Courtney’s body was then taken to the pathology department for an autopsy to be performed. The family are still waiting for the results of the autopsy, while the boy’s remains have been released to the family for burial.
Two-year-old Courtney Ntimane and his parents.
KNP spokesperson Ike Phaahla said that upon hearing of the incident, the section ranger, his lance corporal and the regional ranger went to search for the animal. The leopard was soon found and put down “to remove the danger of another person falling victim”.
Ntimane said his wife returned to Bushbuckridge on Thursday while he waited at the cottage for the pathology report.
Skukuza police spokesperson Warrant Officer Bossie Boshoff said an inquest docket has been opened.
“It’s hard for me and my wife I cannot even leave my cottage or go to work because when I walk out I get flashbacks of what happened. The memory of it all is painful,” Ntimane said.
Phaahla added that the predators in the park, such as leopards, interact with tourists and staff and that this interaction could result in species becoming habituated to people and losing their fear.
“The change in natural behaviour can then lead to unfortunate incidents such as this,” he said.
He said such incidents were rare but “always tragic” when they occurred.
The chief executive of South African National Parks, Fundisile Mketeni, extended his condolences to the family.
“It is never easy to lose a loved one, especially under such tragic circumstances. This is the risk we live with on a daily basis as we help conserve our species for the benefit of all. May the young toddler’s soul rest in eternal peace,” said Mketeni.
KNP management sent a delegation to the family to give emotional support and professional counselling.