Lions Eat Deer in the Hamptons; Animal Handler Dies

Artist's rendering: Each lion, with a full belly, was picked up by a limo for the first leg of its journey back to South Africa.
Artist's rendering: Each lion, with a full belly, was picked up by a limo for the first leg of its journey back to South Africa. Credit: Oliver Peterson

Twenty-six South African lions were released into the woods of the Hamptons on Monday morning, and by the next day, Tuesday, had eaten almost 3,000 deer that had been terrorizing this community, frightening people, crashing into cars, causing Lyme disease and eating vegetable gardens and landscaping everywhere.

The problem of having too many deer in this community is now over. And the lions, who were brought to the Hamptons by mining billionaire Hans van Der Klerk at his own expense, have now been flown back to their native South Africa. Van der Klerk, who bought the old Kallen estate in Bridgehampton three years ago, is also from that country.

“The hunt went far quicker than was expected,” said Hamptons Mayor James Hamilton at a press conference on Tuesday morning on the Town Hall steps. “We had anticipated that this eating frenzy would take as many as 10 days, and we had urged residents to stay in their homes for the duration. As it has turned out, the lions did their work in a day.  So it is safe to come out now. Though I must say that Monday was quite a day.”

Someone asked what happened to the lions now that the deer were gone. The mayor said that he and his police force had helped round up the lions.

“It was pretty easy,” he said. “The lions were sent out one at a time into the different local communities here—Montauk, Amagansett, Sag Harbor, East Hampton, Bridgehampton, Southampton and Westhampton Beach and so forth. There was a great caravan of  limousines that were hired to take them out one to each limo, and we have M and V Limo to thank for that service, which was a very dangerous thing indeed, even with the bars they put up behind the drivers’ seats. We owe them big time. So lions were dropped off in each community at 1 o’clock Monday morning. By midnight, we could all, I think, hear the lions moaning, lying by the sides of the road, their bellies distended, an easy prey for the archers with the sleeping potion darts. We just dragged them in. They went right to the airport.  Now they’re gone.”

RELATED LINK: Map: Lion Drop-off Locations

A member of the press attending the conference pointed out, while the mayor was speaking, directly across the street there was a deer standing under the walk, don’t walk sign, apparently waiting for a break in the traffic.

“Yes, there are stragglers,” the mayor said. “It’s natures way. So there will be a few. Had the lions eaten each and every one, we’d have had the deer on the endangered species list. Think about these things before you interrupt me.”

The mayor also pointed out that the lion hunt was an entirely private affair, and had been accomplished at no cost to the taxpayers.  It had been Van der Klerk’s own idea to bring the 26 lions here. He had seen all the deer grazing on his property. He had heard the community was going to employ hundreds of Department of Agriculture sharpshooters in February, something he felt was more of a danger to the community than the deer, and so he rounded up the South African lions in the Kalahari on December 15 and flew them to the East Hampton airport and then by truck to a living arrangement he had set up in the 17-car garage he has on his estate. He would solve the whole problem ahead of time and now he did.

Someone asked if the plan to bring in the sharpshooters in February would be canceled.

“I don’t know if we can do that,” he said. “We’ve signed a contract to have them come. So we’re obliged to pay. I suppose they could find something to shoot. Perhaps raccoons.”

Someone else asked how the lions could have eaten so many deer in just one day.

“As you know, Van der Klerk’s plan was to release them on Monday, December 23, just two days before Christmas. But then the townspeople protested, saying they would be pinned down over the Christmas holidays, so he agreed to postpone things for a week. He had food for them for just the four days I’m told. And after that, they were so hungry, they ate two Jaguars, a Bentley and one of the handlers. This made them very sick. And being sick made them even wilder. Monday came. By that time, the lions were famished.  They were ready to go.”

“Is the ASPCA going to investigate him for cruelly cooping them up like that?”

“I really hope not,” the mayor said. “He has done us a great service at no expense to us. He spent Christmas week with his family and friends on his estate with all that roaring going on. Give the man a break.”

Someone in the back spoke up to ask if he would be prosecuted for the fact that with the lions eating all the deer, there is no deer meat for the food pantries.

“Oh come on, be serious,” the mayor said. “Our big problem right now is out in the woods cleaning up the giant mounds of lion poop.”

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