Cheetah encounter goes horribly wrong

2012-05-04 11:10

Cape Town - A Scottish couple visiting South Africa saw their holiday turn into a nightmare after a visit to a cheetah enclosure went horribly wrong.

Violet D’Mello was attacked by tame, hand-reared cheetahs at the Kragga Kamma game reserve near Port Elizabeth, The Times reported on Friday.

The D’Mellos were in the enclosure with a family with children. One of the cheetahs grabbed a child, apparently playfully, but injuring the child.

Archibald D’Mello was taking pictures as his wife tried to stop the other children from running away when one of the cheetahs knocked her to the ground, grazing and gouging her head.

Violet later said she could tell they were just excited and not vicious, but added that “it became serious very quickly” as the cheetah’s brother also joined the fray, biting her legs and pinning her down.

"Something inside me just said, 'Don't move. Don't move at all - don't react, just play dead'."

The cats were eventually pulled off her and she ran for the gate.

"This was meant to be a holiday, but it's really turned into a nightmare," she said.

A spokesperson for the park said they would investigate the incident to see what had triggered the behaviour, saying nothing like this had ever happened before. 

Centre for African Conservation Ecology director Graham Kerley told The Times that wild animals in captivity should still be considered dangerous, and it is commonly known that they do not respond well to children.

  • Loo - 2012-05-04 11:14

    WHY do park owners expose people to "TAME" wild animals. DONT they know by now that animals still have their inborn wild instinct , doesnt matter how domesticated WE try and make them. THIS pisses me off something stupid.

      hsebolelo - 2012-05-04 11:23

      Its a common sense thing..d park owners \r\n R innocent...

      Peter-Peter - 2012-05-04 12:01

      The know the owners of this game farm, and the animals very well. Im totally against keeping animals in enclosures etc...BUT these are the kindest people i can think of (with regards to keeping Duma), and some of the nicest most caring people i know too. Duma has actually done quite a few movies etc, and I have even tumbled around on the ground with him. He's very playful. When i was a kid, i was bitten on the bum by a baby cub (a baby cub, but still big), and my mistake was to run away from him screaming. The owners are DEFINATLY not to blame 99% sure, the 'attack' happened because of the kids not thinking too clearly, and parents mismanaging their kids in a potentially dangerous situation.

      Thermophage - 2012-05-04 12:13

      I know Duma as well...he used to sleep in the bed with a friend of mine. There's no way he'd have done something like that without having been provoked somehow. Yes, they still have their inborn wild instinct...but that does not mean it will be acted upon unless they feel they need to.

      Walter - 2012-05-04 12:16

      I couldn't agree with you more, Loo. It is a known fact that cheetahs, even those hand-reared, will react in this way when there are children present. It's an animal thing, whether they're hand reared or not. Those children should never have been or near the enclosure and the owners or their staff must always be close on hand, however nice these people are. MOST irresponsible!

      Loo - 2012-05-04 13:10

      Peter-peter . .I get what youre saying.. But your argument is fundamentaly flawed by the words " Kids not thinking too clearly" .. Which kid thinks clearly. Thats why theyre called kids, and therefore i blame the park owners. Should know better.

      Peter-Peter - 2012-05-04 13:52

      I cant remember, but Im pretty sure they would have had signs up there...with warnings (dont jump around, dont pull the whiskers, dont wear a meat costume) etc. I think its pure ignorance on the parents behalf. If you have a love for these creatures, you would treat them with respect. They are wild animals by heart, and accidents do happen...but i dont think it would be fare at all to blame the farms management. It should be common sense to all the visitors, that they are there to see the animals that you would see in the wild...hence, these are wild animals, and jump up and down like a headless chicken IN ITS ENCLOSURE, you can expect a bit of uneasiness and excitement from Duma. Shame, he probably has no idea whats happening :(

      Bryan - 2012-05-04 14:04

      Seriously... Loo? These people do more for wildlife in a day than you do in a life time.

      veldt66 - 2012-05-04 14:21

      @Thermophage you know Duma very well, he used to sleep with a friend of yours in bed. What ar u trying to tell the world?

      Loo - 2012-05-04 14:22

      @Brian ... Dont be so sure.. I might be more involved un wildlife than you think, but dont worry about it :)

      Tamaranui - 2012-05-04 15:27


      Bert - 2012-05-04 19:11

      Best part of the whole incident is that her hubby didn't stop videoing the incident! Makes you think!

      Renzo - 2012-05-04 20:25

      I cannot believe something like this could have happened and to me it doesn't sound like the full story! I just came from Kragga Kamma a week ago on Honeymoon. My wife and I were inside the enclosure and the cheetahs were more passive than the warthogs that run around there. Although these 2 cheetahs were tame, I was still very weiry of my movements around them. I even told my wife not to move too fast and should only rub his head lightly. Monty and (can't remember the other cheetah's name) were so passive, I wish I could have spent more time with them. The day before we went into the enclosure, I observed two little kids playing with the cats. After a few minutes with them, the kids became over-confident and started rubbing Monty's head vigorously at which point she was told to stop. Although Monty didn't respond much to the little girl, standing from outside, I could see he did not like it much. Just as Peter says, kids run around and play roughly and as a parent, they should know better than to allow that. I don't think its fair that these amazing animals are to blame for what has happened. My stay at Kragga Kamma was awesome, and hearing this type of thing saddens me. @Peter, Duma has passed away last year, not sure if you are aware.

  • nishan.sitlu - 2012-05-04 11:16

    Animals being animals. Hopefully they are not the ones to take the rap for this. sorry about the woman though. She is however lucky, it could have been much worse.

  • richard.hipkin - 2012-05-04 11:18

    As expected... Stop introducing children to wild animals, they see them as a treat.

  • tednhet - 2012-05-04 11:19

    A wild animal will ALWAYS be a wild animal.

  • Kala - 2012-05-04 11:22

    We often forget just how strong animals are. So even when they are playing they can cause serious injury without intending to do so. I now of a man who was paralysed when his pet leopard pplayful jumped onto his back and broke it. One of the basic rules when entering these tame animal enclosures is not to make any sudden movements. Its clear from the story that the kids were running around and were not being controlled by their parents. I am glad there were no serious injuries but the animals can surely not be balmed for what happened.

      Shelley - 2012-05-04 11:25

      Well Said!

      louis.langenhoven - 2012-05-04 11:36

      janee not blamed or balmed for sure

      Marion - 2012-05-04 11:38

      @Kala - no, the animals cannot be blamed for this, especially as the lady says they were being playful,but the owners of the park can because they allow people to enter enclosures with fully grown wild animals.

      Kala - 2012-05-04 11:45

      @Marion - I used to take people to these places all the time. You are warned about the dangers of enetering the enclose. You are warned from making sudden moves especially if you're a child. If you still wish to enter the enclosure after being informed of the above then the choice is yours, not the Parks. They invite you to the facilities, they don't force you.

      koo.doyle - 2012-05-04 12:15

      So Marion, you're saying the people had no choice? Why are you so quick to blame the owners, instead of making the people responsible for their own actions? They were aware of the risks, if they still choose to enter the enclosure, its their problem.

      Marion - 2012-05-04 12:47

      Yes, I do think the owners are responsible. In fact, irresponsible too. Anyone who lives in Africa knows that wild animals are unpredictable, even if they are hand reared. If "it is commonly known that they do not respond well to children" then children should not be allowed in the enclosures, irrespective of how many signs are posted.

  • Olivia - 2012-05-04 11:24

    Idiots. I lived in Phalaborwa for years and the Cheetah Centre close to Hoedspruit emphasizes that no matter the fact they are hand reared they are still wild animals and children are seen as easy prey because they are smaller. I feel the game reserve is just a much to blame for this if they knew what they were doing this would not have happened. So it is all the animals' fault and not the human, like always.

      Loo - 2012-05-04 11:28

      Agreed !!! Ignorance in pusrsuit of profit by the park

      Marion - 2012-05-04 11:39

      That is a great Cheetah farm, isn't it. Went there eons ago.

  • docjimmie - 2012-05-04 11:25

    Stupid peple should not be allowed to interact with intelligent animals. and secondly those animal deserve to be free not cooped up in some rotting cage for idiots and their offspring to poke fun at. God created animals to roam the earth and not sit in f******* cages.

      tracey.baard - 2012-05-04 12:35

      in an ideal world... unfortunately human behaviour has left the survival of cheetahs (and other wild animals) in the hands of conservationists, outreach programs and sanctuaries. and unfortunately, some of these places don't practice safe methods of having paying public interact with these animals.

  • Tommy - 2012-05-04 11:25

    Well, my cat waits for me around corners sometimes - then attacks my legs. All part of a game of course, but still vicious and eina. So, if a cat 50 times larger than my little cat decides to play - get out of the cage. And I agree with Loo above - why do people think they can tame wild animals and parade them to the public as soft and cuddly toys. They are hunters/killers by instinct and can not be held responsible when things like this happen.

      louis.langenhoven - 2012-05-04 11:39

      I was thinking the exact same thing- my little baby kitten is lying here with me but boy when he gets excited and get the claws out and the teeth going you know about it. I never go in for those "walk with the cheetah" experiences. Call me a coward but I look from outside and fear on behalve of the brave ones.

  • Siann - 2012-05-04 11:34

    You can take an animal out of the wild BUT you cant take the wild out of the animal!!!!!

  • Marion - 2012-05-04 11:35

    Surely even tame cheetahs should at least be on a leash? Think the park owners were wrong here. Regret that this lady and the kids had such a bad experience and hope they understand that this is not a common incident in South Africa.

      Kala - 2012-05-04 11:46

      The parents are to blame. They should have had more control over their kids who were clearly not behaving in a manner suitable to the enviroment.

      Adin - 2012-05-04 12:28

      Yes the park owners were wrong...cheetahs eat meat and we are meat...stay away from the cheetahs dumb asses

  • Shirley - 2012-05-04 11:36

    Firstly there is NO such thing as a TAME cheetah or any other wild animal for that matter!! Their natural instincts will always be there! Running or sudden movements is instinctively "prey getting away". If you go to these parks then you should realise that you are entering into an enviroment of a wild creature! Its wonderful to experience the feel of these creatures and to get up close and personal with them but at the end of they day they are still wild and should be treated with caution and respect.

  • lyn.duplessis - 2012-05-04 11:38

    It's pretty obvious what 'triggered' the Cheetah - running children for one. The other is, these are WILD creatures and should be treated as such. I hope the Cheetah/s don't pay the price for man's stupidity!

  • Adin - 2012-05-04 12:26

    Animals don't do anything they aren't supposed to do, those cheetahs didn't go crazy all of a sudden, they went cheetah :) Its the people who are dumb asses for thinking a wild animal can ever truly be tamed

  • tracey.baard - 2012-05-04 12:29

    People and wild animals really shouldn't be allowed in the same enclosure. Not to mention children. Big cats see them as prey, no matter how "tame" they are. Any responsible wild life sanctuary should know this.

  • Romeo - 2012-05-04 12:44

    For goodness sake, its a cheetah, how do you expect it to behave? Its in our nature to behave as human beings so why launch an investigate a cheetah for a cheeatah?

  • brionyl.french - 2012-05-04 12:55

    probably squeeling kids... it sets dogs off even.

  • Kato - 2012-05-04 12:57

    i just don't get. I think people feel it when their time to die approaches and they seek death. people know that there are sharks in the ocean and they gamble with their own lives, people know cheetahs are dangerous and they still get close enough, people know pythons are dangerous and they keep them in their homes.

  • anne.erasmus - 2012-05-04 12:58

    Visiting another cheetah enclosure many years ago, the children were not allowed in - the explanation was the predators view anything smaller than them as easy prey. I also had to remove my sunglasses as the cheetahs may have mistaken their reflection for another - strange - big cat. Regardless of how great the owners are, how 'tame' the cheetahs are- they are wild animals, and their behaviour is not predictable - by anyone. As long as they cannot tell us what they are thinking and feeling, they have the potential to injure humans. These people were very lucky that no-one was seriously injured. As for parents mismanaging their kids - if the cheetahs are in any way likely to react badly to kids, then kids should not be allowed in the enclosure with them. The fact that they were, points to the ownersnot knowing their cats well enough.

  • Tracy - 2012-05-04 13:17

    I took my son to a game farm near East London. His favourite animal is a cheetah. I have photos of four cheetahs around him, two licking his hands like little kittens, the other two lying at his feet. My son was 10 years old at the time. The handler told him, even before he went in, exactly what to do and what to expect. One thing was no sudden movements. Move slowly. Keep facing them. No loud noises. The handler was standing with him the whole time. Only one person was allowed in at a time and then only with the handler. My son still speaks about this wonderful experience he had. As the handler said, they are like big, overgrown cats, and, just like domestic cats, like to play and can be unpredictable. Beautiful animals!

  • Aadil - 2012-05-04 13:29

    We destroy their habitats, enccroach their space,and we still blame the cheetahs?

      Peter-Peter - 2012-05-04 14:50

      lol...your comment can be looked at in a political light too

  • will.glibbery - 2012-05-04 13:49

    Tame cheetahs? What is that? And why were the group not all together? And why were the children running around? I'm quite surprised at this facility having such a lax 'interaction' policy, having seen that the rest of the operation is normally so well controlled.

  • Quinten - 2012-05-04 14:02

    The worst of it is, the cheetahs will have to be put down due to animal owners negligance?

  • karen.inward - 2012-05-04 14:05

    If the lady managed to run to the gate, she was not injured, so why this holiday has turned into a nightmare is a mystery.

      Marion - 2012-05-04 14:34

      @inwardk - when last were you floored by a cheetah, friendly or otherwise? My holiday would also become a nightmare if I was tackled by a cheetah (my favourite wild animal).

  • Lee - 2012-05-04 14:44

    This is horrid! that poor cheetah. Management of the reserve should never have allowed the kids in there. There is a reason most places that have cats in enclosures say no Kids under 12/15 etc. THIS IS IT! Kids are excitable when having new experiences/ cats are highly sensitive to small things that jump around and squeak. Surely this should be a pretty basic equation. The parents really don't have to know better - if this is something new to them, they should be given accurate information AND a lot of people on holiday often tend to not think things through 100% becaus ethey rely on the service providers to be accurate and knowledable

  • Sango - 2012-05-04 14:50

    see the reason why black people don't play with wild animals. When they see you they thinking of making you lunch. Its just the matter of time they attack you.

  • HugoMabasa - 2012-05-04 14:51

    guess Duma is English with an african name because some of the comments portray him as a nice 'fellow' who viciously attacked a scott,racist Duma!

  • Bob - 2012-05-04 18:15

    Over confident and ignorance of the ethology of the cheethas by the park management were the main reasons for this uneccessary happening. We as conservationist are relieved that nothing fatal happened otherwise the animals would have been killed. Peter-Peter posted that the owners are "most caring people" but I cannot believe this because if they were so-called caring, why would they subject the animals to possible death by allowing humans inside their enclosure. Absolutely absurd. I hope that the family that is labelled "stupid' because it may have been their first time ever seeing or interacting with cheethas sue the living daylight out of the facility.

  • christopher.koulouris - 2012-05-04 22:28

    'You can take the cheetah out of the wild but you can never take the wild out of the cheetah.’

  • Luisa - 2012-05-05 00:27

    To say that it as not happen before it's not quite the case. I myself visited last year from the UK there were 8 adults including the guide in the enclosure and 1 of them cannot remember which one took a swipe at my 20 year old daughter leaving a bloody scratch mark on her's nice to see wild animals close but people should remember that they are still wild animals and as such you enter at your own it does not just happen because there were children present but it can I presume aggravate the situation because like wild animals are unpredictable and close encounters wild fully grown wild animals should be BANNED for children and restricted to adults at all times

  • sally.lewitt - 2012-05-05 02:19

    This is the most idiotic careless handling of cheetah and public combo I've heard of! Clearly management should KNOW the nature and behavioral instincts of cheetah and a known fact you DO NOT allow children under 14 in a cheetah enclosure.. \r\nThere ARE certain rules and the above IS one of them! \r\nConsider the fact that there are only ± 8500 cheetah left on the planet I just hope that due to human's irresponsible behavour the cheetah are not going to pay the price.. Shame on you!!

  • janet.mcdonaldbelstead - 2012-05-05 08:25

    Reviewing the images on the Herald website, one can clearly see that these cheetahs were not in attack mode, but were "playing". If they wanted to attack, these individuals would not have come out with scratches, but would most likely be in... hospital if not dead! Most importantly though is that kids should NOT be allowed in the enclosure in the first place - where ever we have been in the past the number one rules include to keep the kids away - they react differently to adults and the cats are attracted by "small objects" - ie. prey. Sudden movements and screaming only excited the cats further thus them probably thinking this was "play time". The article makes it sound much worse than it was (mauled - really now?), etc. I sure hope that these wonderful WILD animals are not destroyed - the humans were at fault not the cats! (the kids that were in the enclosure were under 11 years of age!)

      Renzo - 2012-05-05 14:03

      Very well said Janet. See my comment above as well. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to know that sudden movements and screaming are an absolute no no

  • Adair - 2012-05-05 23:34

    Children should not be allowed to interact with adult animals.Both are unpredictable.

  • Richard - 2012-05-07 09:26

    ita amazing how completely false the reporting on this incident was...SA JOURNALISM FAIL! stop trying to sell newspapers and tell the truth you cretins

  • Tracey - 2012-05-07 10:13

    Everyone gets up in arms over incidents like this but is it actually worth the comments? Her hubby didnt seem very perturbed as he was still taking pics hahaha

  • joan.kleynhans - 2012-05-07 17:52

    Children will be children and cheetahs will be cheetahs. Mixing the two is just plain irresponsible.

  • salome.clack - 2012-05-10 15:39

    As CEO of Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism (NMBT) and loving-local, it is hard for me to admit that even in a wonderful city like ours, unpleasant things do happen to tourists now and again. There is not a destination in the world that is immune to misfortune at sometime or another. Firstly, I would like to sympathise with all the families involved, and assure them of NMBT’s commitment that we do everything possible to ensure that tourists enjoy safe and memorable experience when visiting our city. All at NMBT are thankful that the injuries endured were not more serious. Over the years the game reserve in question has contributed towards enriching the tourism experience for many, many tourists to the city. These reported incidents are unfortunate. As the municipal tourism body responsible for promoting Nelson Mandela Bay, that includes Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and Despatch, we would like to take this opportunity to not only promote the wonder and excitement of viewing wild animals, but point out that they are dangerous and unpredictable. Precaution needs to be taken at every turn by visitors, tourism businesses and authorities alike. Our tourists are our guests, so all city residents need to be alert and keep them safe at all times. Yours in Tourism Mandlakazi Skefile CEO: Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism

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