Swane’ van Wyk is the young South African woman police say was mauled to death by lions at a private animal reserve where she worked as a Game Manager.
Police say van Wyk was performing her regular duties at the lion enclosure when she was attacked on February 6, 2020. She was 21 years old.
A spokesman for the game reserve, Andre Niebuhr, told Heavy via email, “It is still unclear as to why Ms. Van Wyk entered into the lion enclosure, as entering such enclosure was highly forbidden. This is still being investigated by the authorities.”
He added that van Wyk was “an outstanding game manager, who loved and respected all animals.”
Here’s what you need to know.
Swane’ van Wyk Suffered Deep Claw Wounds & Was Pronounced Dead at the Scene
Swane’ van Wyk worked at the Zwartkloof Private Game Reserve in Limpopo Province. The game reserve is located about 100 miles north of the capital city of Johannesburg.
According to her Facebook page, van Wyk began working at the reserve in December 2018. She was listed as a Game Manager on the company’s website. The link to her bio was deactivated as of this writing.
The South African Police Service explained in a news release that van Wyk was attacked by an “unknown number of lions” while “performing her duties.” Investigators have not publicly speculated about what may have prompted the animals to go on the offensive.
The South African Daily Star newspaper reported van Wyk was inside the lion enclosure when she was attacked and that her coworkers heard her screaming. By the time paramedics arrived on the scene, van Wyk had managed to get out of the enclosure but she had suffered deep claw wounds and bites. Police say she was pronounced dead at the scene.
The spokesperson referenced above, Andre Niebuhr, said the game reserve has not made a decision about whether the lions will be euthanized. He told Heavy, “We are obtaining advice from the proper authorities and agents in order for us to make an informed decision.”
Van Wyk Was a College Student Studying Nature Management
Swane’ van Wyk noted on her social media pages that she was a student at Centurion Academy, a private college in South Africa. She included in the bio of her private Instagram account that she was studying Nature Management.
The school’s website explains that a Nature Management diploma is for students who are interested in pursuing careers at nature reserves or in the conservation field.
Students are required to participate in work-integrated learning programs. That includes at least 10 months working “on a game ranch or nature reserve of their choice, where they are required to complete various assignments.”
As referenced above, van Wyk began working at Zwartkloof Private Game Reserve in December 2018. It’s not clear whether her job there was related to her college education.
Van Wyk’s Facebook page was filled with pictures from the game reserve. In her final post from January 30, van Wyk wrote, “Enjoy what you do for as long as you can.”
Critics Argue It’s Too Dangerous To Keep Lions In Captivity at Game Reserves
The Zwartkloof Private Game Reserve advertises itself as a group camping destination that allows “guests a chance to immerse themselves in an extraordinary and unforgettable bush experience.” The front page of the site promotes the Game Reserve as the “ultimate venue for all school camps, sport development, team building activities.”
But critics argue that the practice of holding wild animals in these facilities is not safe. The founder of the safari organization Captured in Africa, Drew Abrahamson, told South African outlet SAPeople that Swane’ van Wyk’s death could have been prevented. “It’s sad yet again that an innocent person has been attacked and lost her life due to the confinement and abuse of lions in South Africa. Whilst the world’s conservation, wildlife and tourism professionals have long denounced this diabolical breeding industry, it’s further saddening to see that South African authorities continue to allow this unnatural industry to continue.”
The creators of Blood Lions, a documentary film about the killing of lions and what it calls the “unethical and insidious practices associated with wildlife interactive tourism,” also commented on van Wyk’s death. The filmmakers released this statement: “Even though many of South Africa’s captive lions have been hand-reared and habituated, predators never lose their wild nature and this distressing accident once again shows the dangers of keeping lions in captivity.”
In response to the criticism about keeping lions in captivity, the spokesman for the game reserve explained to Heavy that the lions “were not kept in cages, but rather in a safe and sizeable enclosure.”