‘This is the end for me,’ victim thought as he was savaged by cornered cat
A farmworker narrowly escaped with his life when he was mauled by a massive leopard which attacked him in dense bush on an Eastern Cape game reserve.
The drama unfolded during a pest control expedition when the animal pounced on Zwelake Dyan – employed at the Burchell Private Game Reserve near Alicedale – and was subsequently shot by a member of the party.
Dyan, 60, was part of the group hunting small predators on the game farm on Thursday morning when he suddenly came across an “unusually large” leopard that attacked him and ripped into the left side of his face.
Now, while he is recovering in Settlers Hospital in Grahamstown, the Green Scorpions are investigating the incident. Dyan said he had his dogs to thank for saving his life. “It happened so quickly,” he said from his hospital bed yesterday.
“By the time I spotted the leopard it was already preparing to charge me. It jumped right into my chest, knocking me down and I went unconscious.
“I had no time to react. I just remember thinking this is the end for me, this is how I die.”
After medical treatment, stitches run from the back of his head, over his left ear, and across his cheek, with a second set of stitches across the same cheek, holding together the left part of his top lip that was nearly ripped off in the attack.
His left eye is swollen shut, his left arm is broken and he has deep cuts in his right shoulder where the leopard’s claws dug into his skin.
Dyan, a houndsman who had been working at the farm for 23 years, led a pack of dogs at about 8.30am to sniff out jackal and lynx that eat smaller antelope on the farm.
Nearby, vermin control officer Dale Venske, carrying a 222-calibre rifle, was working with Dyan to hunt the small predators.
Dyan said his pack of 12 dogs had picked up a scent and started tracking through the veld. The dogs started circling a clump of bushes, and Dyan went closer to investigate.
“It was dark inside the bushes, but when I eventually saw the leopard, about 15 metres from me, I immediately knew what it was. By that time it had already been watching me, and the barking dogs made it angry.
“Before I even knew what was happening, it was on top of me.”
The leopard knocked Dyan down, dazing him. When he regained his senses, he heard his dogs chasing the leopard away from him, toward Venske.
Venske managed to fire off a shot with his rifle, hitting the leopard in the head and killing it on the spot.
The hunting party immediately called for help, and within 30 minutes Dyan was on his way to hospital.
Nature conservation authorities were also notified about the incident.
“I believe my dogs saved my life. If they had not been there to chase the leopard off, Dale would not have been able to get a clear shot,” Dyan said.
Farm owner Barry Burchell praised Venske’s bravery for standing his ground when the leopard turned on him.
“Anyone else would probably have fled, but Dale managed to get a clear shot, when the leopard was about five metres from him, with a calibre that is actually too small for killing leopards. I believe he saved both their lives.”
Burchell said Cape leopards were indigenous to the region, but due to its size he believes this was another species that had been introduced to the area on another farm.
“The leopards we usually find grow up to about 70kg, but this one tipped the scales at 112kg.”
He said they had found a nyala carcass near where the leopard was killed.
“We do not keep leopards on our farm. We run a hunting farm with antelopes, and predators like leopards cause massive damage to our game stock. The dead nyala we found costs about R25 000, so this leopard not only posed a threat to our staff, but to our business as well,” Burchell said.
He said he was happy no one had lost his life in the incident and wished Dyan a speedy recovery in hospital.
At the hospital, Dyan’s daughter, Bulelwa Dyan, 26, a social worker from Alice, rushed to her father’s bedside yesterday when she heard about the incident.
“I was furious. He never contacted me. I had to hear from other family members about what had happened a day later,” she said, looking at her father with tears in her eyes.
“I don’t want him to go back there, but I know I can’t stop him. He loves his dogs, and he loves working in nature.
“I think he needs to retire, but he will probably be back there once he has recovered,” Bulelwa said.
A spokesman for the Green Scorpions confirmed they were investigating.
Police spokeswoman Mali Govender said: “A case of shooting a protected species has been opened. It will be investigated by nature conservation.”
This article first appeared in The Herald.