West Mathewson died in the attack at his family's property on Wednesday

West Mathewson
West Mathewson
| Credit: YouTube

A conservationist in South Africa died this week after the animals he took care of since they were cubs turned on him.

West Mathewson, 69, was attacked Wednesday during one of his daily walks with two white lionesses, The Guardian reported Thursday.

Mathewson was walking the two animals on the family's Lion Tree Top Lodge property when one of them suddenly attacked him, his family told The Guardian. His wife Gill was driving along behind and attempted to save Mathewson, but to no avail.

"She tried her best to rescue her husband, but was unable to do so," family attorney Marina Botha told The Guardian.

"The family is heartbroken by the loss of their husband, father and grandfather," Botha added. "They find comfort and peace with the fact that he died while living his dream, being in nature and with his lions."

Mathewson had reportedly saved the two lionesses from "canned hunting," which is when animals are bred to be hunted or hunted in a small, enclosed area, The Guardian reported.

The same lions escaped and killed a man at a neighboring property in 2017, Africa Geographic reported at the time.

While it remains unclear why the lions attacked Mathewson, but his family believes it may have been a result of "rough play," The Independent reported.

"We will only know why he died when we have the results of the autopsy," Mathewson's daughter-in-law Tehri Fergusson said. "We have to realize, West was not as young as he thought he was. We are still not sure what actually happened but there was very rough play."

Fergusson added that the lions will not return to the family's lodge.

"They are in a safe place now and they will be cared for and loved, and then they will be let loose into the wild, but they will not be returning here," she said, according to The Independent.