PRETORIA, South Africa -- A 2-year-old boy was attacked and killed by a leopard in South Africa's Kruger National Park.
The animal managed to access staff living quarters and mauled the child of one of the park's employees. He was rushed to hospital by family members but was pronounced dead on arrival, park officials said.
The park said in a statement that such attacks are "very rare occurrences but always tragic when they do occur."
The leopard has been put down to prevent it from attacking another person, Kruger National Park spokesperson Ike Paahla told ABC News. Paahla said the animal has been showing signs of losing its natural fear of humans.
"About two weeks ago, our rangers noticed that this particular leopard showed signs of becoming habituated to humans. They set out trap cages to try and capture the animal and monitored him but he managed to avoid capture until last night, when he attacked the toddler in the living quarters, Paahla said. "The rangers tracked him and shot him as there was reason to believe that he might attack humans again."
Park visitors follow strict rules to stay safe from animals, such as locking gates and traveling in groups, Paahla said, adding that a leopard was "unlikely" to attack a fully grown adult but might "take a chance with a child between 2 to 6 years old".
He said that people visiting and working in the park were given as much protection as possible with accommodation fenced off to keep animals out, but said "unfortunately they sometimes do find ways of getting in."
"We have to respect that they are wild animals," he said.
Chief Executive Officer of South African National Parks Fundisile Mketeni extended his condolences to the family of the deceased.
“Our prayers and thoughts are with the family during this trying time, we wish them strength and will give them all the support they need as an organisation," said Mketeni in the statement.
"It is never easy to lose a loved one, especially under such tragic circumstances," the statement added.
Moral support and professional counselling will be provided to all parties involved, KNP management said.