Twenty Years Ago Today: Cameraman Dies in Zoo Rescue

Rick LombaTwenty years ago today, things were bad in Angola. A civil war raged between the two movements that had originally fought against colonial forces: UNITA and the MPLA. It had been going on since the colonial power left in 1975 and had been one of the many conflicts used as a proxy in the Cold War. There had been a fragile peace in 1991, but the fighting flared up again soon after. By 1994, UNITA had scored a devastating series of victories against the MPLA, and were threatening to take the whole country. But Rick Lomba was mainly worried about the animals.

Lomba was a documentary maker and cameraman whose 1986 film The End of Eden showed how Africa's ecosystems were being eroded by human agriculture, particularly the introduction of cattle ranching to South Africa. He supplemented a career in environmental activism by working as a TV cameraman, and it was in this capacity that he'd travelled to Luanda, to cover an effort to rescue animals trapped in Luanda zoo.

It wasn't that they expected Luanda to fall to UNITA. It was more that the chaos had left the zoo with no money to feed the animals, which were starving to death. The plan was to get the animals back to South Africa and distribute them among various zoos there - far safer than Angola, despite all the worries about violence in the run-up to the elections.

But a mistake was made. A safety gate was left open, and a hungry Bengal tiger was able to burst free and attack the first person in its way - Rick Lomba. The deputy director of the Johannesburg Zoo snatched up an AK47 from a guard, but it was too late. All he could do was kill the tiger before it pounced on anyone else.

The other animals, including tigers, lions, buffaloes, hyenas, mongooses, chimpanzees and a brown bear were secured, though an ostrich and a buffalo died after being tranquillised. At least one of the rescued animals still lives at Johannesburg Zoo - a brown bear who was named Luanda after the city from which he came.

Rick Lomba was commemorated by a ROSCAR award for environmental filmmaking. The End of Eden doesn't seem to be available to buy, but some kind soul has uploaded the film to YouTube in its entirety.