Lion man Mark Scott-Crossley has been freed from jail on early parole after serving only three years of his five-year sentence.
He was released from the Bushbuckridge correctional service centre in Mpumalanga after being brought from Barberton maximum security prison yesterday morning.
A large contingent of heavily armed police and prison warders monitored his release after policed received information that a protest was planned.
"We were taking no chances," Bushbuckridge police spokesman Inspector Nyiko Maluleke said.
"People must respect the rule of law and we were tipped off that members of the community wanted to come and protest against the man's release."
Scott-Crossley's father, Paul Scott-Crossley, his brother, Shaun, and his attorney, Charl van Tonder, welcomed him at the prison gates.
Scott-Crossley Snr refused to speak to Sowetan except to say that the family had chosen Van Tonder to be their spokesman .
"We had many problems during the court hearing in Phalaborwa," he said. "We spoke to the media but all was changed to something we did not say."
Scott-Crossley Jnr was originally sentenced to life in prison in October 2005 for the murder of Nelson Chisale, a fired worker, who was thrown into a lion's enclosure in January 2004 when he went to collect his belongings.
But the supreme court of appeal withdrew the murder charge against him and convicted him of a lesser offence, one of being an accessory after the fact to the crime of murder. The court found that the prosecution had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Chisale was alive when he was thrown into the enclosure.
The court then ruled that Scott-Crossley would serve the remainder of his sentence for the lesser offence backdated to September 30 2005.
The case made headlines across the world.
Scott-Crossley's face went red when Sowetan asked if he would stick to his promise, made during during his mitigation of sentence, to care for the Chisale family.
"I was too willing to speak my mind but I cannot answer that type of a question," he said.
"Goodbye, see you next time," he said before jumping into a waiting double cab bakkie driven by his lawyer.
Meanwhile, his co-accused, Simon Mathebula, is still serving a 15-year term in jail.