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Lion lunges through open window to fatally maul American tourist in South Africa

An American tourist mauled to death Monday by a lion in a South African drive-through wild animal park had lowered her car window to get better photos when the big cat pounced, according to park officials.

The tourist, who was not identified, and her tour guide were violating park policy and safety signs and warnings when they drove up to a pride of lions with both the driver's and passenger's windows open, according to a park statement emailed to the Los Angeles Times.

The statement described an unnerving scene in which witnesses said the tourist continued to snap photos of the lion, seemingly unaware that it had begun stalking her.

"According to witnesses a lioness then began slowly walking towards the vehicle. The lady was taking pictures of this lion, which then stopped about a meter or two away from the vehicle. Witnesses state that the lady still had her window fully open at this point when the lion lunged towards the car. It then bit the lady through the open window," the statement said.

"Witnesses that were in the enclosure at the time confirmed that both the passenger and drivers windows were open as the driver drove up to the pride of lions," according to the statement from Lion Park a popular south African tourist destination.

The statement described a series of frantic events as the driver "tried to fend off the lion and get it to release the lady," and was himself injured by the animal. Park staffers "rushed to the vehicle and chased the lion away." Staffers began treating the injured woman until an ambulance "arrived within minutes."

But it was too late.

"Unfortunately while the paramedics were treating the lady she did pass away from her injuries. The driver was taken to hospital for treatment to the injuries he sustained however his injuries are not life threatening," the statement said.

"It is incredibly sad that a life had to be lost in this manner -- visitors to South Africa need to remember that predators are dangerous and rules are there for their own safety, if all the rules are adhered to your visit to the Lion Park, national parks and other similar facilities will be a safe and treasured experience."

The statement added: "We would like to assure everyone that we will not euthanize the lioness. The lioness will remain under our care."

The statement said that the park -- whose website promises that you can get "super up-close animal views" -- offers a unique and safe experience, as long as safety precautions are followed:

On Tuesday, the park was open to the public and would "operate as normal," the Associated Press reported, quoting a park spokeswoman.

It was unclear whether the American tourist would be identified. The U.S. Embassy in South Africa confirmed the death on Twitter, but said no additional information would be forthcoming out of respect for the victim's family.

The attack occurred about 2:30 p.m. Monday, local time, according to the Associated Press.

Local police are also investigating the incident, according to News24.com.

Journalists and photographs gather outside Lion Park to await details of a lion attack on an American tourist on June 1.(Associated Press)

The incident was closely followed by local media and residents. Headlines about the story were the No. 1, 2 and 3 stories at one point on South African news outlet EWN. One article detailed additional tourist attacks at the park, many that involved people lowering car windows for a closer look at the big cats.

UPDATES

1:10 p.m.:This article has been updated to add more details and video.

9:15 a.m.:This article has been updated to include details about the park's operating plans and tweets from the U.S. Embassy.

8:42 a.m.:This article has been updated with a statement from Lion Park.

The first version of this article was published at 6 a.m.

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