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A South African robber fleeing the scene of his crime hid in a tiger cage. On the country's coast, a woman attempted to be a good Samaritan by pushing a young seal back into the sea, believing the poor thing is stranded.

Both people paid severely for either's stupidity, underscoring one of nature's truisms: humans do dumb things around wild animals.

"I blame it on Walt Disney and the likes, where animals are given human qualities. People don't understand that a wild animal is not something that is nice and cuddly. It can cause serious harm," a South African professional hunter said.

The cartoon image of wildlife may have prompted a South African woman in to try to help a seal which she believed was stranded, allowing her one-year-old grandchild to stroke the creature in the process.

The seal responded by biting off the woman's nose.

Cape Fur Seals are common on South African shores and many have become accustomed to humans. They are a popular tourist attraction and can be viewed playing in the sea by Cape Town's waterfront - which may also give a false impression of wrong friendliness.

"Cute" seal babies have also been used as potent symbols by groups such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare, further enhancing the animal's "cuddly status."

But they can in fact be dangerous and sometimes attack people who venture too close - as South Africa's noseless do-gooder discovered in horror.


Then there was a South African robber who made the mistake last month of taking refuge in an enclosure which turned out to be home to a pair of unimpressed tigers. He had fled into a nearby zoo after security guards heard the screams of a couple he had just robbed, about 400 km (250 miles) southwest of Johannesburg.

Not surprisingly, he was mauled to death by the big cats.

The mugger was not the first South African criminal to err in hiding among zoo animals.

Max, a 200 kg (440 lb) gorilla, gained fame in 1997 after being wounded by a terrified gunman who jumped a moat into his space in Johannesburg's zoo while fleeing police. Max pinned the fugitive against the wall of his enclosure and guarded him even after being shot until police arrived, making him an instant folk hero in crime-ridden South Africa.

Other people don't realize that you shouldn't get between a mother and her babies - especially when dealing with the world's largest land mammal. An elephant gored a tourist to death in a Ugandan national park after the man, carrying an 8-year-old boy in his arms, approached the animal's calf.

"I think too many people are just too far removed from nature. People who live in cities often see nature as something that is tame and manageable," said Sue Lieberman, director of the global species program for conservation group WWF International. "And wrongly so. We don't need to tame nature, we need to keep the wild out there," she told Reuters.


Then there are the show-offs. Lions mauled a South African male teen-ager who came too close to their enclosure while trying to impress his girlfriend.

The 16-year-old, his girlfriend and his mother were having lunch with the lion keeper when he ignored advice and went off with his girlfriend to see the lions in the breeding section of the park.
The boy went into an area off-limits to the public and touched a lion through the mesh fence.

The lion quickly drove its teeth into his arm and dragged him under the fence before the curator came, drove the four adult lions in the enclosure away and rescued the teen-ager.

"It just shows a total disregard and disrespect for wild animals," said Cameron.

The boy was luckier than a couple from Taiwan in 1993, who got out of their car to photograph lions up close at a South African wild park - and who were quickly savaged to death by the beasts.

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