A lioness named Nyanga attacked and killed a 63-year-old South African zookeeper on Monday, apparently because security gates were left open, the Johannesburg Zoo said Tuesday.
Colleagues heard Joe Ramonetha screaming and rushed to help but it was too late, zoo spokeswoman Letta Madlala said. Ramonetha, suffering a severe bite to the neck, was declared dead on arrival at the hospital, she said.
Ramonetha had been feeding the 11-year-old lioness or cleaning out her enclosure at a rural lion breeding farm in Parys that is managed by the Johannesburg Zoo, about 75 miles southwest of Johannesburg, Madlala said.
The zoo's executive manager for education, Louise Gordon, called Ramonetha’s death a “terrible accident.” She said there had not been a fatal animal attack at the zoo in 50 years.
"Joe was attacked in the staff passage and sustained a fatal bite wound to his throat," Gordon said. She said staff are trained to close gates when they enter the lion area and to release them to an outside camp area before starting to work in the enclosure.
Zoo managers will meet to decide the fate of Nyanga the lioness. The lioness was tranquilized and moved to a separate cage following the incident, according to the BBC.
Ramonetha had worked at the zoo for more than 40 years and was an experienced handler. He is survived by his wife and four children.
South Africa has about 2,700 free-ranging lions and 4,000 lions in captivity.
Msnbc.com staff contributed to this report from The Associated Press.
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