Marloth Park man is attacked by lion while riding his bike…A stick and flashing lights…

Jonas, a youthful-looking 40-year old owns several businesses and has done well in his life considering many hardships.

“Sighting of the Day in the Bush”

Blue-eared starling sitting atop fence post between Kruger National Park and Marloth Park.

It was no coincidence that Jonas was biking down the then-unpaved Olifant road in Marloth Park late at night, after spending time at the “farm” where many young men played soccer in the early evening. It’s was March 11, 1999, 19 years ago today.

Many young men worked and lived on the farm, and other locals were allowed to visit the privately-owned farm to play soccer, who’d leave at night to return to their respective homes located in Marloth Park.

In 1999, as few as 100 residents lived in Marloth Park and considerably more wildlife than is seen today, 19 years later. The now-electrified fence that generally keeps out the “big five” and more was then an easier-to-pass shorter fence with many of the more dangerous wildlife entering the park from time to time.

While at the farm, Jonas decided to grab a burning piece of food from an open fire. Realizing it was so dark, the firestick would help light his way home to his modest hut in the park. 

At one point, during his bicycle ride, he’d considered dropping the burning stick, thinking he may not need it. But, something inside of him inspired him to hang onto it. The stick wasn’t specifically “on fire” but consisted of burning embers, and who knows, it may become handy after all. He continued on his way, blissfully unaware or concerned about what lay ahead.

As Jonas told his story in Afrikaans, Danie translated it into English. 

Jonas grew up on a farm outside of Marloth Park and had learned to speak Afrikaans from other kids on the farm, who typically spoke both Swazi and Afrikaans. The ability to speak two languages is widespread in this part of the world, and often, many can speak English as well.

When Jonas visited us a few days ago, Danie came along as an “interpreter” since English is not his primary language, although he’s fluent in both Swazi and Afrikaans.

It was interesting to hear him tell his story of 19 years ago today, as he easily recalled details, speaking freely in the Afrikaans language. (There are over 3 million people who speak Swazi in South Africa, and 6 million speak Afrikaans, a language brought over to southern Africa, derived from the form of Dutch brought to the Cape by Protestant settlers in the 17th century).

Although we asked several questions during Jonas’s visit, Danie was an expert at maintaining the flow of pertinent questions that enabled us to grasp Jonas’s power and the significance of Jonas’s story.

In 1986, Jonas attended school in Hectorspruit. By the time he was in 10th grade, his parents had divorced, and he felt he had to leave school to earn a living to help out the family and perhaps someday return to school. His uncle offered him a job in Komatipoort as an assistant to his gardening business. 

He has scars all over his body from the attack.

Once he became adept at gardening, his uncle got him a job at a neighboring property where he worked as a gardener for ZAR 120 per month (in today’s US dollars, it would be US $10.16). After he saved his wages for a period, he decided returning to further his education would be most beneficial for his future.

He packed a bag, and while heading away from the property, a neighbor offered him ZAR 180 a month to work for her, now equivalent to US $15.23. He couldn’t refuse and immediately began his new employment. During this period, he returned each night to sleep at his uncle’s house in Marloth Park.

There were warnings about being out at night in Marloth Park during this period, but there was no means of enforcing such a restriction. Even today, with the giant game occasionally entering the park through openings in the fence, there’s no enforcement, and some locals freely wander about the garden in the dark.

The only other previously documented lion attack in Marloth was in 1997 at the local “caravan park” located near the Marlothi shopping center. A local ranger, Sydney, was attacked by four lions in this area while on his bike but was rescued by a man with a torch, ultimately saving his life after being severely injured.

Jonas and his uncle worked together on many smaller building jobs learning how to become a quality builder. By the time he was 20 years old, he was qualified to build houses and continues in his craft, yet today has attained quite a level of success with a family of his own, a huge home, and several businesses.

Little did he know that on today’s date, 19 years ago, the path for his life would be defined by a single incident that occurred on the road that night. As he continued on his bike ride on Olifant Street to his home, suddenly, he felt the fierce grip of a lion on his back as his bike toppled to the ground. 

He showed us a few of his scars from the attack, which had faded over these past 19 years.

He knew he was in grave danger of losing his life. With the firestick still in his hand, he used it as a weapon to fend off the determined lion, as he was clawed from head to toe by the vicious female.

What goes through a person’s mind during such a horrific event? Is it true one life flashes before them? In Jonas’s situation, his only thoughts centered around how he could maneuver the firestick to save his life hopefully.

However, the lion weighing from 112.5 kg to 136 kg (248 to 300 pounds) was winning the battle as Jonas wildly flailed the firestick, all the while fearing his life was about to end. The battle continued for what seemed like 10 to 15 minutes. However, in such a state, it’s nearly impossible to estimate an accurate time frame.

Jonas was tiring.  During this period, he noted another more miniature lion on the side of the road. Could it get any worse than it was?  In a mere flash of time, Jonas noticed the lights of a vehicle approaching.  Perhaps, his life wasn’t over after all.

In a state of hope, he was downtrodden when the vehicle turned off to a side road. When the headlights approached, the lion withdrew momentarily. A moment later, another set of headlights appeared, renewing Jonas’s hope.

As it turned out, it was a police truck (a truck known as a “bakkie” in South Africa), appearing suddenly from distant Komatipoort, a rare occurrence in this remote location. Upon exiting his vehicle seeing and seeing the lions, the officer fired a single shot into the air.

Tom, Jonas, and Danie.

The loud sound sent the lions scurrying off into the dense brush. Immediately, the police officer loaded Jonas into his vehicle and rushed off to the nearest hospital, Shongwe, in the neighboring town of Malelane, a 30-minute drive.

Jonas’s injuries, although severe, could have been much worse, had not used that firestick so desperately in an attempt to fend off the vicious lion. He stayed in the hospital for seven days as his wounds and tremendous loss of blood were attended to while he was placed on massive doses of antibiotics to avoid infection.

Jonas resisted returning to Marloth Park for many years, but his desire to become successful and accomplished brought him back. Today, he lives in a nearby town and works with his many customers in the area.

Although now 40 years old, Jonas appears youthful, fit, and full of life and energy. His passion for his life, family, work, and past experiences drive him to fulfill an essential role in his community.

May this date, 19 years later, serve as a reminder of the life of a brave young man, coupled with this simple fact…his time on this earth wasn’t up, and he was bound and determined to make the most of his life…and he has.

Thanks to Danie for his thoughtful interpretation and Jonas’s willingness to openly and willingly share his essential story of survival.

Photo from one year ago today, March 11, 2017:

Mystery Island, a tourists-only uninhabited island staffed by sellers and servers when cruise ships arrive in the area. For more photos, please click here.

Comments and responses Marloth Park man is attacked by lion while riding his bike…A stick and flashing lights…

  1. Jessica Reply

    Dear Opinion,

    It's a nightmare, we're sure Jonas will never forget and will live with the rest of his life. We feel fortunate to have met him and to hear his story firsthand.

    Thanks for writing.
    Warmest regards,
    Jess & Tom

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