South Africa: Lioness attacks and kills zookeeper

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — A lioness has attacked and killed a zookeeper at a Johannesburg Zoo breeding farm.

Joe Ramonetha, 63, who had worked at the zoo for more than 40 years, died from a bite to the neck, zoo officials said today. 

The incident happened Monday at the zoo's rural farm in the Free State, about 75 miles southwest of Johannesburg.

It is not clear what happened, but zoo officials said Ramonetha was likely feeding lions or cleaning an enclosure when the lioness attacked him in a passageway. Food scraps were found nearby.

Colleagues heard Ramonetha screaming and rushed to help, but it was too late. He was pronounced dead upon arrival at a hospital in Parys, a nearby town.

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A spokeswoman for the zoo, Louise Gordon, told the Pretoria News that human error may be to blame, as it appeared that gates had been left unlocked.

The 11-year-old lioness, named Nyanga, was tranquilized after the incident and moved to a separate cage.  The Associated Press reported that zoo managers will meet to decide her fate.

Gordon told Volksblad newspaper that Ramonetha was a much-loved member of staff, and zoo employees were in mourning.

"We're very shocked, because he had decades of experience and training in various safety procedures. We don't know what could have happened," she told the newspaper.

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