The video above is disturbing, and if it is all there was to this story, it would have been bad enough.
Recorded by a tourist in a South African safari park last weekend, the footage shows a lion drag a man from a tour truck — his neck in its jaws as if he were a chicken.
The animal drags the man behind a bush while one onlooker sobs hysterically and another pleads for a rifle. The footage ends as the sound of gunshots and screaming cut across the 120-acre Marakele Predator Center.
Those images, however, do not explain the sad context of the Saturday attack.
The man dragged from the truck was the park’s owner, Michael Hodge, who had moved to South Africa with his family because he loved lions so much, local news outlets reported. The 72-year-old had bottle-raised the lion who attacked him and cared for it all his life, a full decade.
Hodge now lies in a hospital bed, traumatized, and may never know why Shamba turned on him. The lion Hodge loved was shot dead to save his life.
South Africa has in recent years become somewhat notorious for its lion hunts, in which rich tourists can pay thousands of dollars to kill drugged animals that have no chance to flee.
The Marakele Predator Center was nothing like that. No hunting was allowed, News 24 reported. Instead, visitors could camp a few miles from the town of Thabazimbi, in scrubland backdropped by South Africa’s northern mountain ranges, among lions, Bengal tigers, meerkats, mongooses and marmoset monkeys.
“Your bed will truly vibrate with the lions roar!” the center’s website informed prospective volunteers.
Hodge had once been a trader in England, and his wife a hairdresser and shop owner, the Manila Bulletin wrote in a travel article. The couple and their two children moved to South Africa in late 1990s, the Bulletin wrote, to make a business of Hodge’s dream of living among lions.
“His first lion, Nina, who now lives opposite the tigress sisters, was queen of his household until she grew too big,” the Bulletin wrote. “Nina slept in Mike’s bed, washing his face and giving him a spit-bath at 3 a.m.”
He bottle-fed a baby Shamba in 2008, CBS News reported, two years before the Marakele center opened for business.
In a photo for the center, he and his wife, Chrissy, pose grinning — she snuggling a cub, Michael with a monkey wrapped around his neck.
When the Bulletin’s travel reporter visited in 2013, she wrote, “I could see nothing but endless tall grass and dry scrub.”
She heard Shamba and the other golden lions roar in the distance, and kissed a half-ton tiger through a gap in the electrified fence.
Visitors traveled inside the gates in what the Hodges called the “Lion Mobile,” she wrote. “They tied dead chickens to a cage on wheels, where they locked in visitors, before driving inside the enclosure Nina shares with their two hand-raised males, Freddie and Shamba.”
The tourists then gaped as lions climbed all over the truck, wild animals feeding just inches from their cameras.
It was at the end of a similar excursion inside the gates on Saturday, News 24 reported, that something went terribly wrong.
When the tourist began recording, Shamba was standing in the grass a few yards from the Lion Mobile. A man on the other side of a fence, outside the gates, appeared to be calling to the lion and throwing bait into the grass to lead him away from the truck.
A park employee told CBS News this was standard procedure: An employee would lure the lions away from the vehicle, and Hodge would then open the gate and drive the tourists out of the enclosure.
“Mike does this regularly,” a family spokeswoman told News 24. “Shamba mysteriously turned around on Saturday.”
In the video, the lion is seen sniffing at the grass, as if considering something, then continuing to walk away from the truck.
A friend of Hodge’s told the Sun a strange smell seemed to be upsetting the lions that day.
“Shamba, come on,” the man outside the fence called, before throwing another piece of bait onto the grass.
“Come on,” he said, and the shutter of a camera clicked.
When Shamba walked many yards into the distance, Hodge got out of the truck and walked into the video frame.
He, too, considered an object in the grass, kicked it, then turned back toward the truck.
Then he started to run.
It took Shamba just three seconds to close the distance between them. Hodge nearly made it back inside the vehicle’s cab, but the lion pulled him to the ground, clamped his jaws down near Hodge’s neck and dragged him back into the enclosure, as if he weighed nothing.
Inside the cage on the back of the truck, people screamed and yelled.
“Help! Help! Help!”
“Shamba! Shamba! Shamba!”
“Get a gun.”
The lion briefly dropped his prey in the grass and backed off a few feet as Hodge writhed there. Then Shamba grabbed him again and pulled Hodge behind a bush, out of the camera frame.
“Shoot!” a man shouted, followed by a gunshot, and soon a second and third, and more.
Nothing stirred behind the bush. A woman who had been pleading for someone to help Hodge began to sob.
“Get a rifle,” a man said. “Somebody get a rifle, just in case.”
The video went on for another minute or so, until a male lion — it is unclear whether it was Shamba or another animal — wandered into the frame and looked at the cage full of terrified people and then at the men who still called to Shamba from outside the fence.
The lion stood passively in the grass, as if unsure what to do.
“Please, somebody help him,” a woman said.
“Is anybody getting a rifle?” a man said.
While the video does not show it, News 24 reported that one of the employees outside the fence shot and killed the lion to save Hodge’s life.
His jaw had been broken and his neck gashed in several places, but Hodge was recovering in a hospital Wednesday and apparently doing well. In a photo published by the Sun, he is grinning, and bloody bandages cover his neck.
Despite the pose, his family told News 24, Hodge remained traumatized by the sudden aggression and subsequent death of the lion he had once fed from a bottle.
“I think he is trying to put up a brave face,” family spokeswoman Bernadette Maguire told the media outlet, “but he is really battling to come to terms.”