A British publisher is claiming that ,a close friend of Prince Harry has been horrifically injured in a rhino attack while working on a wildlife conservation project in Malawi.
Game ranger Lawrence Munro, 41 – described by Harry as a great team-mate and ‘one of the best’ – was tossed and gored by the adult female which charged him and a group of visitors in Malawi’s Liwonde national park.
Witnesses described how the father-of-two suffered a wound that stretched from his foot to his hip after he stepped into the animal’s path to protect the visitors.
An emergency compress was applied to Mr Munro’s wound as a colleague radioed for help. They then carried him to the nearest path while a helicopter was scrambled to take him to hospital in South Africa.
Mr Munro had earlier shared breakfast with Harry at a bush camp on the banks of the Shire river. They had been working for 10 days on the second phase of the 500 Elephants project, moving the animals from the overcrowded Liwonde park to Nkhotakhota national park, which has lost elephants to poachers.
Harry was in another part of Liwonde when the attack happened on Monday but it is understood that news quickly reached him. His close friendship with Mr Munro began shortly after the Prince left the Army in 2015. They spent several weeks together at the Kruger National Park in South Africa, working on military anti-poaching patrols.
Mr Munro had taken a few hours away from the 500 Elephants project to lead the group on a walking safari. The guests were major donors to the African Parks Network, the non-governmental organisation running the relocation initiative.
Armed and working with an experienced Malawi scout, they walked into Liwonde’s fenced sanctuary, where 14 endangered Black Rhino were in their breeding season.
Rhino tracking is considered a unique experience in Liwonde, with guests given full safety briefings. They can see trackers connecting by VHF radio to the satellite collars on animals in the breeding programme.
On Monday, the seven guests set out at first light, dressed as instructed in khaki or dark green, and under strict instruction to keep noise to a minimum. A witness said that soon after they entered the sanctuary the scout motioned to them that there was a female rhino and calf ahead in the thick bush.
‘Within seconds she had clearly got our scent and set off towards us,’ he said.
‘The baby followed her and looking back it’s clear she was protecting both the calf and the territory. Within a few seconds our quiet magical walk into rhino territory had become absolutely terrifying. The scout signalled to us to retreat as fast as possible and to get behind him in a single line behind a tree.
‘The rhino was thundering towards us with its head down. I never thought a huge animal like that could move at such speed.’
Mr Munro, who has lifelong experience of wildlife behaviour, made a split-second decision to step out of the line and directly into the enraged animal’s path, intending to divert it away from his companions.
One of the group said: ‘I’ve never seen anything like it. He shot forwards holding his rifle up with both hands as if to fend off the rhino. But it came straight at him, its head down, and the rifle broke in about three pieces as he was flung into the air and landed face down in the dust and dirt. We saw blood pouring out of a huge gash all the way up his leg and thigh, as far as his hip. He kept saying he was all right, and he remained conscious but it was terrible to see so much blood.’
The female rhino, weighing about 4,000 lb, continued into the bush at full speed, her calf running behind her.
Mr Munro was picked up by a rescue vehicle and taken to his camp for emergency first aid, then airlifted to Johannesburg for surgery.
Harry returned to England on Tuesday as he was to present awards at a Queen’s Young Leaders ceremony at Australia House in London.
The Prince has previously praised Mr Munro’s skill, knowledge and courage and once invited him to lecture students at a training centre.
In a post on Kensington Palace’s official Instagram account last year Harry was quoted saying: ‘Lawrence Munro and I met in South Africa last year… We got him to give a fantastic brief to the ranger students at Kruger on their graduation.
‘This year he is working with African Parks as their operations manager in Liwonde. He’s one of the best.’ Last night Chris Galliers, chairman of the Game Rangers’ Association of Africa, said: ‘I spoke to Lawrence and he says he’s going to be fine. It could have been so much worse. He’s a modest guy but we know there were heroics.’
Kensington Palace declined to comment but Harry recently addressed the dangers of working closely with wild animals, saying: ‘I’m fatalistic. If something is going to happen to you, it will happen.
‘And I have such a respect for wild animals that it’s a privilege to be around them. Plus the Army taught me teamwork.’
He has flown helicopters for the 500 Elephants project, helped with sedated elephants and administered the ‘wake-up’ injections they need once loaded on to flatbed trucks for the 250-mile journey north.
At his family home yesterday Mr Munro said he was in pain, but ‘very lucky to be alive’. Married with small children, he is no stranger to animal attacks. In 2010 his then pregnant wife Kerrin pulled him from a crocodile’s jaws after it sank its teeth into his feet. They had been at the White Umfolozi river in South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal, where Mr Munro needed to check a water pump.
The Malawi Government has yet to make an official statement