The game farmer and the lion protecting his home from robbers

By Stuart Graham

A South African game farmer and his wife have enlisted a three-year-old male lion named Lobengula to guard their home after they were warned that they were about to be attacked by a gang of robbers.

Tobie Bird, 46, and his wife Christolien Bird, 31, started using Lobengula as a security guard on their farm in the Hopetown district in the Free State province after they received information about the imminent attack last month.

Tobie Bird walking alongside Lobengula. Photo / Tobie Bird
Tobie Bird walking alongside Lobengula. Photo / Tobie Bird

"I was in hospital at the time and couldn't think of any other way to protect my family," Mr Bird, who is a former policeman, told The Telegraph.
"How do you fight off attackers from a hospital bed?" Lobengula, whose name means "men of the long shields" was brought to the farm when he was a year old.

He was rejected and mauled by the other lions on the farm. Mr Bird called in a vet who advised him to euthanize the lion, which was severely injured. "I couldn't do it," he said. "I put him the garage and the vet put him on a drip.

"About six weeks later I started giving him small bits of meat on a stick to eat, but he never stood up. He was too weak."

One day, about three months after the attack, Mr Bird opened the garage and Lobengula stumbled out. He and his wife were terrified. "I mean he is a wild lion. He wasn't hand reared. He was raised by his mother in the wild. But all he did was come and sniff me and rub his mane on my leg. Then he went to my wife, did the same to her and he collapsed.

"We didn't adopt Lobengula. He adopted us."

Lobengula, the three-year-old lion. Photo / Tobie Bird
Lobengula, the three-year-old lion. Photo / Tobie Bird

Lobengula was moved to a three hectare enclosure, but when Mr Bird realised he and his family were under threat he decided to open the gate on the farm at nights so that the lion could patrol the perimeter of the house.

"This isn't a permanent measure. We'd like Lobengula to be sent somewhere where he can be safe, but for now it is all we could do. He's a very special animal. He has a massive personality." Mr Bird said he and his wife will not walk outside while Lobengula on guard duty.

The couple always make sure there is a fence between them and the lion. "He recently brought down and adult giraffe," Mr Bird said. "If we go outside when he is around, he will most likely kill us.

"The only difference between a tame lion and a wild lion is that a tame lion has lost his fear of humans."

Tobie Bird and his wife Christolien started using Lobengula as a security guard on their farm in the Hopetown district after they received information about an imminent attack. Photo / Tobie Bird
Tobie Bird and his wife Christolien started using Lobengula as a security guard on their farm in the Hopetown district after they received information about an imminent attack. Photo / Tobie Bird

White South African farmers claim they are being tortured and killed by attackers in a deliberate attempt to drive them off their land.

The Afriforum organisation, which represents the Afrikaans speaking community, says there were 357 separate attacks in the past year with 74 farmers murdered.

The South African Predator Association says it does not recommend keeping lions for security reasons, but so long as all the requirements of the law regarding the keeping of lions are met, it remains the farmer's "own decision and responsibility".

In April a 11-year-old boy was attacked by a "tame" lion in a farm house outside of the town of Elisras in northern South Africa. Kristiaan Prinsloo was flown to hospital but he died from his injuries weeks later.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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