OAU could do more by a thorough investigation of the incident

Accustomed as Nigerians increasingly are to tragedies, the mauling to death of a zookeeper by a lion at the zoological garden of the Obafemi University [OAU], Ile Ife caused shock all across this country. A statement by the University’s spokesman, Abiodun Olarewaju said the victim, Olabode Olawuyi, was a Veterinary Technologist who had been in charge of the zoological garden for over a decade. Olawuyi was said to be feeding the lions when one of them, a nine-year-old male, jumped at him and mauled him, inflicting severe injuries. Other members of staff at the scene of the incident were said to have done everything they could to rescue the victim but with little success. That the medical emergency couldn’t save Olawuyi was not surprising because to be attacked by a nine-year old male lion is about the worst encounter anyone could have with a wild animal.

Meanwhile, Olanrewaju gave a different version of what happened to the BBC.  He said the incident happened while the zookeeper’s female colleague was feeding the lion. Because one of the entrance doors to the den was not properly locked, it enabled the animal to find its way out of its enclosure and attack the unnamed female zookeeper. That was what promoted Olawuyi to jump into the den. While he successfully rescued the woman, according to Olarewaju, the lion attacked him in the process.  We expect OAU authorities to undertake a full investigation into this incident and inform the public of their findings. It is important to know what exactly transpired so that all other facilities, private or public, academic or commercial, that hold wild animals anywhere in the country would learn valuable lessons. The University must also investigate who filmed and posted the gruesome video of Adewuyi on social media after the attack.

However, this is by no means the first time that zookeepers have been mauled by wild animals in Nigeria. A few years ago, a similar incident happened at the small holding den at Kaduna’s Gamji Park. A zookeeper was mauled and, although he was rushed to hospital, he did not survive. Three decades earlier, there was an incident at Jos Zoo when lions pounced on their keeper and mauled him to death. In that Jos incident, the reason was clear: the zoo was starved of funds and the lions had not been fed for 10 days. The zookeeper, who had been feeding them for many years, usually drove the lions to a corner, cleaned the den, supplied their food and then allowed them back in. When he did not supply food after cleaning the dens for 10 days, the lions pounced on him.

Only a full investigation will reveal what happened at Ife, but it is curious how and why Olawuyi or the unnamed lady came into direct contact with the lion. Even though we often see online videos of huge lions that have been tamed in South African and Botswanan parks, where humans play and roll around with them, it is a very dangerous practice that should never be encouraged here. Besides, it must be assumed that the animals are well taken care of in those parks. However strong the bond they appear to have built with their human caretakers, the wild and killer instinct in lions can easily be brought out due to stress, sickness, fear and, most especially, hunger.

While we commiserate with the family of Olawuyi and the OAU management and staff on this tragedy, we urge them to properly study and publicise what actually happened so that zookeepers and others who rear dangerous pets all over the country will learn valuable lessons. 

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