Security guards at the Accra Zoo found a middle-aged man dead inside the enclosure, which is protected by a 10-foot-high outer fence as well as a 20-foot-high mesh fence. Its inhabitants were a lion, a lioness, and their two cubs. It is not clear which lion killed the intruder, but there are reports the lion pounced on the man as soon as it saw him make his way inside the enclosure.
In a statement, Ghana’s state Forestry Commission noted that the man, who they declined to name, died from the wounds he sustained during the attack. Police responding to the scene managed to safely remove the body from the enclosure and transport it to the morgue for an autopsy. The enclosure remains secure, and none of the lions escaped during the incident.
The Accra Police Service said: “The police are working with the management of the zoo and the forestry commission to get to the bottom of this unfortunate incident.”
Although authorities are still working to determine a motive, it is believed that the man may have been trying to steal one or both of the rare lion cubs. Their unusual light coloring and rarity has made them very valuable to poachers. The Global White Lion Protection Trust estimates that just a dozen of them exist globally in the wild. Their white color makes them stand out in the wild bush country of Africa, which dramatically raises their risk of being targeted and killed by predators.
Although it is rare to encounter lions in the wild in Ghana, researchers believe there could be small populations of the big cats in the Mole National Park and surrounding areas.
Since the rare cubs were born at the zoo last November, large crowds have been visiting the zoo to catch a glimpse of them. They were born after a male and female lion with recessive trains for leucism were bred. This is a rare genetic mutation that gives their fur a fairer color. They are considered sacred by some African cultures. Although they are often mistaken for albinos, white lions actually have some pigmentation as well as dark eyes.
Benito Owusu Bio, the Deputy Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, told the press that the lions are very protective. He said: “The lions have cubs so if you come too close, they may feel you are trying to take away their babies.”
“We ask the public to desist from doing anything like this,” he pleaded.
The zoo, which is situated in Ghana’s capital, was closed to the public temporarily while authorities investigated the circumstances of the attack.
It’s not the first white lion attack to make headlines in recent years. In 2020, 69-year-old South African conservationist West Mathewson was killed by a pair of white lions that he hand-reared. According to his wife, who witnessed the incident, he was walking two white lionesses when one of them became aggressive toward the other and then turned to Mathewson, killing him without warning. His attack may have been a result of very rough play, according to his relatives.
The incident occurred at the family-owned Lion Tree Top Lodge in Limpopo, where Mathewson raised the lions since they were cubs and regularly interacted with the 400-pound cats. The family was assured that the lions would not be put down after the incident. Mathewson had saved them by buying them from a park where lions are grown until they are big enough to be shot for money by trophy hunters.
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