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Mauled to death ‘playing’ with these lions on morning walk

‘Not aggressive’: West Mathewson with lionesses Tanner and Demi, and (below) bottle feeding  one of them as rescued cub PICTURES: FACEBOOK.

A CONSERVATIONIST has been killed by two white lionesses as he ‘played’ with them at his safari lodge in South Africa.

West Mathewson, 68, was mauled to death after he unlocked the gate to their enclosure to take them for their morning walk. His wife Gill, 65, tried to distract the 400lb cats, named Tanner and Demi, but it was too late.

Mr Mathewson is said to have rescued the lions as cubs from ‘canned hunting’ — where animals are stalked in an enclosed area or are bred to be killed.

He ran a popular safari destination known as Lion Tree Top Lodge, near the town of Hoedspruit, 280 miles north-west of Johannesburg.

The lionesses had previously killed a man working on a neighbouring property after they broke out in 2017.

At the time, Mr Mathewson stressed that the pair were ‘friendly’ and ‘not aggressive’ and that he walked them for three to four hours a day.

Mr Mathewson’s daughter-in-law Tehri Fergusson said his death could have been the result of ‘very rough play’. She added: ‘We will only know why he died when we have the results of the autopsy.

‘We have to realise West was not as young as he thought he was. We are still not sure what actually happened but there was very rough play.’ The lionesses were tranquillised following the attack and have been taken to a local endangered species centre.

According to Ms Fergusson, they will later be released into the wild.