A young woman was mauled to death at a game reserve run by South Africa’s self-styled “lion whisperer” weeks after supermodel Cara Delevingne posed for a photo-shoot.
The 22-year-old victim was pounced on by a lioness at the Kevin Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary, near Johannesburg, as she walked back to her car with a friend.
Believed to be South African, she was pronounced dead despite desperate attempts of paramedics to save her life.
It happened just weeks after Delevingne posed with one of Mr Richardson’s male lions in a promotional shoot for a luxury Swiss watch brand.
Mr Richardson today said he was “shocked and saddened” at the death, adding: “Our heartfelt sympathies go out to her family.”
He explained that he was taking three lions on a weekly walk through the Dinokeng Big 5 Game Reserve, when the lioness ran off in pursuit of an antelope.
He said: “One of the lionesses charged off after an impala and must have run 2 to 2.5km where she encountered the 22-year-old.
“The young woman was not a guest at the camp, but had accompanied her friend to conduct an interview for an assignment with the camp’s manager.
“Before leaving the reserve, the two visitors were taking photographs outside the camp where the attack occurred.
“I am devastated and my heart goes out to this young woman’s family.”
Nick Dollman, a spokesman for the paramedics, said: “The injuries were very severe, it was a deadly attack.
“The friend with the victim watched it happen, but was not hurt, but must have been in a terrible state emotionally.”
Police and local authorities are now investigating the circumstances of yesterday morning’s attack.
Father-of-two Mr Richardson has become a global star thanks to his relationship with the big cats, which feature in a string of adverts and documentaries.
He hand-reared Vayetse, the 500lb, ten-year-old cat pictured with Delevingne, from birth.
The model, who has a lion tatoo on her index finger, thanked Mr Richardson for “the most incredible experience with my favourite animals in the world” following the shoot in December.
She added: “I am so humbled to have had the experience to work with such an inspiring animal up close. It really gave me a first-hand experience (literally) how awful it is to be confined to a cage.”
Visitors to his property, which is made up of 13 enclosures, can pay to volunteer, take drives in safari vehicles or stay in tented accommodation.
The website promises visitors, “you will enjoy the spectacular African bush and come face-to-face with majestic lions and hear their magnificent roars at night”.