Thabazimbi, Limpopo - A wildlife park owner has miraculously survived being mauled by a lion he had hand-raised from a cub.
Briton Mike Hodge – said to have had a close bond with the animal – suffered serious injuries after it suddenly leapt on him and dragged him by the neck into undergrowth at the park in front of terrified onlookers.
The lion, an adult male known as Shamba, was reportedly shot dead after the attack inside an enclosure at the Marakele Animal Sanctuary, founded by Mr Hodge.
Friends said the 67-year-old had hand-raised Shamba at the sanctuary and had a "special bond" with him.
Mr Hodge was badly injured in the neck and jaw, although he was later pictured smiling from his hospital bed with a blood-stained bandage covering his wounds.
The terrifying attack was caught on film at the wildlife park his family runs in Thabazimbi, Limpopo, close to the border with Botswana.
The footage, widely viewed online, shows Mr Hodge calmly entering the lion’s enclosure on Saturday and initially walking towards him, before stopping to inspect something on the ground. But Shamba then suddenly starts charging towards him, forcing the keeper to bolt for the gate.
[WARNING: Graphic video]
Shocking footage captures the moment British wildlife park owner Mike Hodge was mauled by a lion after entering its enclosure.
Mr Hodge is recovering in hospital from "serious" injuries. It's understood the lion was killed.https://t.co/bUNLJi4e7c pic.twitter.com/ftdUiVhtpT
Before Mr Hodge can reach safety, the lion pounces on him and grabs him by the neck, dragging him back into the enclosure’s undergrowth.
After initially screaming out in pain, Mr Hodge then lay motionless on the ground while a woman outside sobs: "Oh my God, help, somebody help please."
A man’s voice can then be heard shouting ‘shoot’ and several shots are fired, although it is not clear if the lion was killed at this point or put down later. Friend Hanli Hunt wrote on Facebook that Mr Hodge was passionate about protecting big cats and had a ‘special bond’ with Shamba, adding: ‘This is very sad for both parties.’
Mr Hodge and wife Chrissy, originally from Wilmslow, Cheshire, moved to South Africa in 1999 and started raising lions at their remote farm in 2003, before opening the sanctuary as a tourist attraction in 2010.
The site is now home to several lions, tigers and cheetah, as well as many species of monkey, hyena and jackal.
In a 2016 Facebook message, Mrs Hodge wrote that her husband "truly is living his dream" of working with wildlife, and particularly with lions. Her daughter from a previous marriage, Emma, who helps to run the sanctuary, wrote: "It’s truly incredible how our animals adore him."
Journalist Emerita Abadilla, who volunteered at Marakele in 2013, said the Hodge family had bred lions for more than a decade.
She said Mr Hodge had allowed their first lion, Nina, to sleep in his bed until she was 18 months old, and said Shamba was hand-raised by the family. The lion became a star attraction at Marakele, where he was fed chicken carcasses on top of a purpose-built cage on a truck while tourists stood inside it for a close-up view.
But the video prompted a row on social media, with critics questioning why the lion had to be shot when it had followed its instincts as a predator after Mr Hodge entered its enclosure.
Facebook user Justa Kruger wrote: ‘If he [Mr Hodge] had such a special “bond” with Shamba, he would have known that you don’t turn your back on these predators. The lion had to pay now the ultimate price for his stupidity.
"Making money off them, by dragging pieces of meat over the vehicle for these lions to jump on. This is animal abuse and cruelty."
A friend told Sun Online that Mr Hodge entered the enclosure to check on a smell inside which had "upset" the lion. He said: "It had put the lion on edge but when Mike went in the lion turned and came for him and he ran but couldn’t get through the gate quick enough and it had him."
He added: "He is no fool around lions and knows how to interact with them but clearly something went wrong."
Police said Mr Hodge was recovering in hospital.