A wildlife researcher who was attacked by a starving lion in Africa punched the animal in the face as his friends threw elephant dung at it and hit it with a truck in order to save his life.
Gotz Neef, 32, was sleeping in his tent in the Okavango Delta in Botswana on December 7 when the emaciated predator pounced and tried to kill him.
Dr Rainer Von Brandis, a fellow researcher sleeping nearby, threw elephant dung and branches at the lion before hitting it with a piece of tree in a desperate attempt to save his friend’s life – while naked from the waist down.
Head ranger Tomalets Setlabosha then threw a flash-bang – intended to frighten away elephants – at the big cat before running it over with his jeep, which finally scared the animal back into the bush.
Neef was rushed to hospital suffering 16 puncture wounds from the lion’s fangs, broken bones in his arm and elbow, and deep scratches from its claws, but is now recovering from his wounds.
Meanwhile animal workers decided to put down the elderly lion, who had been kicked out of his pride by younger rivals and left to starve – prompting him to launch the attack on Neef in a desperate final bid for survival.
Gotz Neef, 32, suffered 16 puncture wounds, broken bones in his arm and elbow and deep scratches on his back and head as he was attacked by a lion in Botswana on December 7
Neef was asleep in his tent when the predator attacked. He punched it on the nose to try and keep it away, before it latched on to his elbow (pictured)
Teeth marks are visible on Neef’s back from where the emaciated predator grabbed hold of him as it attempted to kill him
Animal workers said the elderly and emaciated male had been kicked out of his pride by younger rivals and left to starve, before attacking Neef in a desperate bid for survival
Recalling the terrifying five-minute attack, Dr Von Brandis, 46, said: ‘I guess I was not a pretty sight in just a T-shirt naked from the waist down and wearing a head torch screaming at this lion who was attacking my friend!’
The married father-of-two from Cape Town is the Research Director of the Wild Bird Trust was on an expedition with his pal Neef and six other researchers in the wilds of Botswana.
He said: ‘I heard Gotz screaming there was something big outside his tent and I ran out in the pitch black with my head torch on and saw this big male lion had collapsed his tent.
‘It had one paw on Gotz and fortunately was chewing on the tent poles rather than him and I just saw some big piles of dried elephant dung and pelted the lion with it really hard.
‘That didn’t work so I threw thorn branches at it but that didn’t work either and by now the lion had Gotz by the elbow and was seriously chewing him and my friend was screaming.
‘I was nearly naked and was screaming as well and ran up to the lion and beat it with a big piece of a tree but it did nothing and then our head ranger Tomalets Setlabosha came out.
‘I was smashing the lion with the branch but it would not stop chewing on Gotz and hardly even blinked when Tomalets threw a thunder flash banger used to scare hippos close to it.
‘The lion jumped a bit but was it was so hungry and so desperate and this was its last chance at a kill to feed or it would die so it restarted its attack and began trying to eat Gotz again.
‘Then Tomalets jumped into the Land Cruiser and ran the lion over but it would not leave Gotz alone and he had to run it over three times before it let go and ran off into the bush.
‘The lion was euthanised which was the kindest thing to do for it as it was skin and bone and would have died an agonising death at the jaws of other lions or starving to death if left alone.
Neef has slept out in the wilds of Africa in his two-man tent more than 500 times but this was the first time he was attacked by a lion
The lion collapsed Neef’s tent with him struggling desperately against the predator from inside
Neef’s friend and colleague Dr Rainer Von Brandis ran semi-naked from his tent to take on the lion armed with only a branch
‘We patched Gotz up and drove him to a hospital in Maun, which was a very bumpy 50 mile trip which took three hours which was very painful for him, where a doctor sorted him out.
‘He was then airlifted back to Windhoek in Namibia where he lives and taken to hospital there and is recovering from so many bites – I cannot even guess how many fang holes he has.
‘It is important to say that there is nothing reckless in camping in tents out in the wild as that is the only way you can do your research in the wild as there is no other way of doing this.
‘What happened was extremely rare where an old lion is driven out of its pride and was starving to death and to get a meal this was its last roll of the dice and he was so desperate.
‘Gotz will heal in time and will be back on the team soon and the lion was put out of its misery. This was not normal lion behaviour but it had no other option to try and stay alive’ he said.
The pair were part of an eight-strong team from the Wild Bird Trust that works throughout Southern Africa and were on an expedition in Botswana funded by the US’s National Geographic Society.
They are both Namibian born but have German ancestry and either have or are entitled to German passports and nationality through their parents. They spend much of their time in the wilds of Africa.
Lucky-to-be-alive Neef had sixteen deep and extremely painful fang bites stitched up in his arms, shoulders and head which left him covered in blood and he was also clawed by the lion.
Single Neef who lives in Windhoek, Namibia, said: ‘I heard something moving around my tent and looked at the time and it 01.26am then saw a head pressed against my tent and a nose.
Neef was taken to the nearest hospital before being flown by air ambulance another facility in Namibia, where he lives
Gotz was treated by the Okavango Air Rescue’s Head of Medical Operations Dr Misha Kruck who said: ‘He was not our first patient bitten by a big cat but he was probably our most serious’
‘I did not know what was outside my tent and started calling for help and hit the nose with my fist as hard as possible and then it attacked me and began trying to bite and maul me.
‘I heard Rainer shouting ‘it’s a lion’ and I tried to back into a corner of my tent and tried to push the lion away with my sleeping bag but it was determined to attack me.
‘The lion started to bite me and got my head but I managed to pull it out and pushed my left elbow in his face and he started biting my arm and I screamed in pain’ said the Wild Bird Trust’s Research Manager.
While Dr Von Brandis was battering the lion the Wild Bird Trust’s senior guide Tomalets came to the rescue of the pair of conservationists and then helped pull Neef from his blood soaked tent after chasing off the lion.
Dr Von Brandis said: ‘Gotz was bleeding heavily when we got to him and we put him on the back seat of the Land Cruiser and drove him to a nearby tourist camp to assess his injuries.
‘We patched him up the best we could and it was only then when one of our group politely mentioned I had no shorts or underpants on and that I was still naked from the waist down!
‘I obviously rectified that situation and we carried on treating Gotz!
‘We contacted the Okavango Air Rescue in Maun but were told they were not allowed to fly at night so we decided to drive Gotz to Maun by car as he was bleeding so much and we couldn’t wait.
‘The roads were so bad it took us three hours to cover about 50 miles on a very bumpy and slippery track and finally we got him to a private clinic at 5am where doctors were waiting.
‘He was stabilised and his wounds cleaned and then he was airlifted to a private hospital in Windhoek where he is being treated and monitored to ensure there is no infection.
‘Gotz is in a stable condition and his parents Georg and Martina are with him and the initial assessments are very encouraging and we hope he will be back to work in the New Year.
‘It is not many people that survive a lion attack and he will have quite a few scars to show his children and grand-children one day when he tells them of the night he fought a lion.
‘Tragically the poor lion was very old and near the end of its life having been driven out by younger more powerful males and no longer had the ability to take down game itself.
‘Unfortunately for Gotz he was on the menu that night as the old male could no longer hunt and it was just nature and he was starving and desperate and came into the camp for a meal.
‘The expedition will go on and Gotz will rejoin us when he is fit again in a month or two’ he said.
The Botswana Wild Bird Trust said that the Department of Wildlife and National Parks were contacted and assessed the lion’s condition and agreed that it was kindest to put it down.
Neef was treated by the Okavango Air Rescue’s Head of Medical Operations Dr Misha Kruck who said: ‘He was not our first patient bitten by a big cat but he was probably our most serious.
‘He had been bitten many, many times by the lion and as well as patching him up we had to inject a broad spectrum of antibiotics and then thoroughly clean the wounds to prevent infection.
‘That is pretty painful so we had to sedate Gotz as he was in so much pain’ she said.
Neef was then flown from Botswana by an air ambulance to the Lady Pohamba Private Hospital in Windhoek, Namibia, where he is being treated for his bite wounds as well as broken bones in his elbow and arm.
Neef’s friend Von Brandis said the two men are hoping to be back at work in the outdoors in the New Year
Von Brandis recalled Neef screaming in agony as the lion bit deep into the flesh of his left arm
He is recovering well following the attack after his wounds were stitched up and treated for infection
The young researcher revealed that earlier in the evening while they were having dinner around a fire that a pride of 13 lions including two big males, a young male, eight females and two sub adults walked through their camp.
He said: ‘It was around 8pm on the evening I was attacked and none of us were worried and the lions just walked though. Just where the old and emaciated lion later came from we don’t know’.
Neef has slept out in the wilds of Africa in his two-man tent more than 500 times and has been the subject to lion attention before.
He said: ‘In 2018 we had three young males come into camp and I had one of them lying against my tent and against my feet but after about 45 minutes he got up and just moved away ‘.
Neef was in the wilds with a team of researchers from the Botswana Wild Bird Trust on an expedition for the National Geographic Society on an ongoing biodiversity monitoring programme in the Okavango Delta.
They were piloting a biological control programmed of the invasive plant Salvinia Molesta known as ‘Kariba Weed’ which infests the area to see if the application of a species of weevil can kill it off.
It is thought lions kill up to 200 people a year in Africa in the wild mainly by old males who can no longer hunt. The victims are rarely tourists or guides or researchers and tend to be local people in remote villages or poachers.
A healthy male lion can ran at up to 50mph and weigh 190kg and stand 1.2m tall at the shoulder and are feared throughout Africa except by the Maasai tribe where boys used to have to kill a male lion as a rite of passage.
Last year a hapless tourist almost had his arm bitten off by a hungry lioness after sticking his limb through the bars of her enclosure and trying to stroke it at a game lodge in South Africa.
Mechanic Pieter Nortje, 55, was being given a guided tour of the lions at the Tikwe River Lodge in Virginia, Free State Province, to celebrate his 10th wedding anniversary when disaster struck.
His wife Ilze captured the shocking incident on video and Nortje was only saved from losing his arm and potential death when a stranger suddenly punched the lioness on the nose.
He was rushed to hospital and had to have 60 stitches to repair the damage from the 5 second lion attack and was later readmitted to be treated for sepsis from wound infection.
On the video Nortje can be heard quipping to his wife as he strokes the lioness: ‘Come here my lovely, let daddy stroke you’. He then jokes: ‘If you bite me I will bite you back’.
Unfortunately for Nortje from Bloemfontein the lioness did and put him in hospital.
In May 2018 Mike Hodge, 72, who owns the Marakele Predator Centre in Thabazimbi just north of Johannesburg was attacked by a male lion when he entered its fenced enclosure.
British-born Mr Hodge was badly mauled and was only saved when the lion, called Shamba, was shot dead by a keeper after it had dragged Mr Hodge into the undergrowth to kill him.
The married family man was rushed by air ambulance to hospital for life saving surgery on wounds to his neck, chest and back but recovered and is now back running the game lodge.
In February 2017 a 22-year-old woman was attacked and mauled to death by a lion at the Dinokeng Game Reserve in Hammanskraal after getting out of her car to photo wildlife.