Relief as SANParks admits liability for fatal buffalo attack

Lee-Anne Butler

THE wife of a man who was attacked and killed by a buffalo bull at the Mountain Zebra National Park in Cradock is relieved South African National Parks (SANParks) has admitted responsibility for the incident.

Last week, SANParks put an end to the 3½-year civil suit by conceding it was responsible for the July 2010 attack on two couples, which left Johann Schmidt, 64, from the Western Cape, dead. Schmidt's wife, Marie, 63, and their friends, Sam, 64, and Marianne Sieberhagen, 60, survived the attack but were all seriously injured. The damages have yet to be determined.

Marie Schmidt's said yesterday the attack had occurred while the friends were walking from their chalet to the swimming pool.

"I am very relieved this whole thing is coming to an end. It has been very hard for us to prepare for the court case and I believe once it all is settled I will finally have closure."

Schmidt said she was still plagued by injuries incurred induring the attack and hoped that SANParks had taken extra precautions to ensure the safety of other visitors to the park.

The incident and losing her husband, the marketing manager at the Lourensford Wine Estate at the time, had been severely traumatising, she said.

The Sieberhagens and the Schmidts had frequented several parks but it had been their first visit to the Mountain Zebra National Park.

After the attack, they were transported to Cradock Hospital after receiving attention from park staff and paramedics at the scene. The three were then airlifted from Cradock Hospital to St George's Hospital in Port Elizabeth where they received further treatment.

Marianne Sieberhagen said she and her husband were also still struggling with injuries after the attack.

"We were not even on a hike when this happened. We were only walking to have a look around and we were near the swimming pool. What if it had been children playing there? We lost Johann and my husband also nearly died. It was touch and go for him for a while," she said.

Sieberhagen said they had heard afterwards it was not the first time an attack had occurred at the park. "We heard about two or three other people had been attacked before us."

After SANParks conceded last week, the Grahamstown High Court made a final order that it be liable for the damages suffered by Schmidt and the Sieberhagens and that it also pay the legal costs.

The order states that SANParks's acknowledgment of liability did not constitute an admission of fault but was only made for the purpose of arriving at a settlement.

The issue of the damages will be determined at a later stage.

SANParks's regional communications manager Fayroush Ludick yesterday said she was unable to comment on the matter as a response was still being formulated by its legal team.