West Mathewson rescued two white lion cubs from a facility where they were bred to be hunted when they were just days old. It was the start of a loving friendship. The South African conservationist raised the lionesses, keeping them in an enclosure at his safari lodge, Lion Tree Top Lodge in Limpopo, even after they broke out in 2017, resulting in a man's death. The man was collecting wood on a neighboring property when he was mauled, suffering wounds to his chest, torso, and legs, per News24. He died a week later, though local health authorities cited "other diseases." At the time, Mathewson—seen cuddling with the lions on the lodge's Facebook page—told News24 that the friendly animals "just wanted to play with the guy." Relatives now suggest the same thing happened Wednesday, this time resulting in Mathewson's death.
Mathewson was walking the lionesses—dubbed Demi and Tanner, per IOL—when one became aggressive towards the other in what relatives suggest was a case of "very rough play," per the BBC. The lioness then turned on Mathewson, who suffered an injury to his groin and extensive bleeding, per the Letaba Herald. Mathewson's wife had been following in a vehicle and tried to distract the lions before calling for help, per the BBC. "Police and emergency services were activated and on arrival, the man was found with multiple injuries. He was declared dead on the scene," according to the South African Police Service. The animals were later tranquilized and moved to another game lodge. The BBC reports they are to be released into the wild at a future date. (Another South Africa lodge owner was killed by his lions almost exactly a year ago.)