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Friday, May 4, 2012

The moment British woman was mauled by 'tame' cheetahs at holiday safari park

-Woman, 60, left bleeding badly after being attacked as husband took pics
-Lucky not to lose an eye in three-minute attack, said doctors
-Eight-year-old girl also attacked by 'agitated' cheetahs
-Park manager said the deadly animals 'thought it was play time'

By Chris Hanlon

Violet D'Mello, 60, was wrestled to the ground by a captive big cat after she entered an enclosure at a wildlife park where tourists are invited to pet the animals.

The shaken housewife, from Aberdeen, was on holiday with her husband Archie, 64, when the terrifying incident happened.

She told today how she was thrown to the ground as two cheetahs mauled at her head, stomach and legs.

Mrs D'Mello, who was rushed to hospital after the incident, said: 'It was terrifying and happened so quickly.

'One minute I was in the enclosure with the cheetahs and the next it was biting at my head.

'I was thrown to the ground and had to play dead while it mauled my legs and stomach.'

A guide at the game park in the Indian Ocean town of Port Elizabeth managed to pulled the second cat off Mrs D'Mello, but even as he did so, the first cheetah rejoined the fray, pining the Scot to the ground and biting and gouging her legs.

It was only when a group of park visitors worked together to pull the two animals off her that Mrs D'Mello was able to make a dash for the petting pen's gate.

Amazingly, Mrs D'Mello's husband Archibald had been outside the pen throughout the ordeal from where he captured these astonishing pictures of the attack as it happened.

After the attack, park manager Mike Cantor rushed Mrs D'Mello to hospital where she was received stitches for a wound in her head and was treated for injuries around her eye and leg.

Camryn Malan, 8, also needed stitches for the gashes in her leg, Mr Cantor said, adding: 'Everyone has been a bit traumatised by it all'.

Terror: Violet is helpless as cheetahs tear at her head and body

Mr Cantor explained that he had raised the two four-year-old cheetahs, brothers named Mark and Monty, since they were born.

He said: 'I have grown up with these cheetahs and they are not aggressive animals.

It is almost like they wanted to play with the woman.What happened was that the young girl got a bit uptight and then ran away and the cheetah grabbed her by the leg.

'The trouble is that cheetahs, like dogs, don't have retractable claws and so they would have injured as they did so. The other lady [Mrs D'Mello] went in to assist and the cheetahs probably thought it was a play time.

'It was a very busy at the park that day, which may have aggravated them somewhat.'

Yesterday Mrs D'Mello, from Aberdeen, told South Africa's Herald newspaper: 'It all happened in just a few minutes, but it was a nightmare.

'They weren't being vicious. You could tell they were just excited, but it became serious very quickly. This was meant to be a holiday, but it's really turned into a nightmare.

Bloody: Violet shows injuries as animals lurk before starting another attack

Big cat expert Graham Kerley, from the Centre for African Conservation Ecology, warned tourists that cheetahs can respond more aggressively to children than adults and he warned parents against having their children too close to wild cats

Mrs D'Mello's ordeal came after the holidaying couple visited the private Kragga Kamma game reserve near the city of Port Elizabeth.

Mr D'Mello, a commercial helicopter pilot, told how the couple paid £4.50 (50 rand) each to view a pair of captive cheetahs close up.

He said: 'We arrived the game reserve and there was an enclosure with two cheetahs inside. There was a sign up saying that you could take a tour of the enclosure with a guide and stroke the cats.

'We decided to go for it as it all seemed safe, and at first the cheetahs were calm. We were in there with a local family who had young children.

'The guide was a young woman, who said we could go over and stroke the cheetahs.But as my wife went over to do so the animals got up and walked away.

'The guide said that at this time of the day they were a bit agitated.We walked away and as we did so one of the cheetahs leaped on a little girl who was in there.

'She screamed loudly and we turned to round to see what was happening. She fell on her stomach and the animal bit her thigh.'

The couple were forced to put their plans on hold for several days following Saturday's incident but have continued their holiday in another game park near Port Elizabeth.

Ordeal: The attack lasted around three minutes and her husband captured these shots

Mrs D'Mello said she needed dozens of stitches after the attack.

She said: 'It really came from nowhere and I was totally helpless. The doctor at the hospital said cheetahs usually aim for the stomach area and disembowel their victims, so I was lucky to be alive.

'Both cheetahs were on me and there was nothing I could do.They have sharp claws that stick out of their paws and were really strong.'

She added: 'I have had umpteen stitches in my head, my leg and along the side of my stomach.

'We're back on holiday now but have to reschedule our trip so I can go to hospital next week to have the stitches out.

'We love animals and especially cats as we've had some of our own.I worried about the little children being so close to the cheetahs but I never imagined for a moment they would attack an adult.'

Mr D'Mello said the couple had been looking forward to their trip for months.

Vice-like grip: Violet is pinned to the ground by cheetah's jaws

Obviously we didn't imagine that anything like this would happen.

'The last week has been a nightmare, but we're just relieved that we are both in one piece and want to make the most of the trip.'

Mr D'Mello, who had been taking photographs at the time of the attack, described how he was forced to stand helplessly as the cheetah mauled his wife.

He said: 'It was totally frantic and terrifying, a real melee.

'Violet was on the ground and the animal kept biting her head and thighs.

'The other cheetah came over too and was scratching at her.

'I couldn't do anything and the guide didn't even have a stick to defend herself.'

He added: 'In the end a woman from reception heard what was going on and came running over with a stick which the guide used to frighten away the cheetahs.

'The attack must have been going on for three minutes at least by then and my wife was bleeding badly.'

Shaken Mrs D'Mello was rushed to hospital for treatment after the incident.

She needed bandages for wounds on her head, stomach and legs and was given doses of painkillers and antibiotics.

Mr D'Mello, who booked the couple's month-long tour of South Africa as a 60th birthday present for his wife, said she was bleeding profusely after the attack.

He said: 'She was in a terrible state and was bleeding badly, particularly from the wound on her head.

'Luckily one of the women who worked at the place was a former nurse and she helped patch her up before we went to hospital.

'The doctors said she was lucky to have escaped alive.

'One of the cheetahs' paws had torn around her right eye and if it had been a centimetre to one side she could have lost her eye.'

'We're very angry about what happened because we were told the situation was safe and it obviously wasn't.

'The park said they didn't know what had caused the cheetahs to attack but they shouldn't let tourists in unless they're sure it is safe.'

The South African family caught up in the incident told a local newspaper they were also shaken by the attack. Glenda and Samuel Malan visited the park on Saturday with their children Cassidy, 11, Camryn, 8, and Calum, 7.

Mr Malan told the Port Elizabeth Herald newspaper she heard screams as Camryn was mauled. He said: 'It was hectic. I couldn't do anything because I was outside. I was just screaming.

'I heard my children screaming. By the time I arrived there, she had already been bitten. It was a traumatic experience.'

Kragga Kamma park manager Mike Cantor told the Herald it was unclear what sparked the attack. He said the captive cheetahs, brothers Mark and Monty, had been hand-reared since birth and were considered extremely tame.

Desperate escape: Violet attempts to get up before she is mauled yet again

He said: 'It's not something we've ever really experienced. It's obviously very unfortunate, and we're looking into what may have startled or riled up the cheetahs.' He added: 'We've had these animals for four years.

'Dozens of people have come through here and seen them and fallen in love with them, so it pains us to hear about something like this. From what we've been told, there was a lot of commotion at the scene, which, unfortunately, most likely aggravated them somewhat.

'We're also considering the possibility that a female in heat in one of the neighbouring enclosures might have played a role here, but we can't be sure at this stage.'

Tthe petting facility at the park had been closed pending an investigation into the incident.

The Kragga Kamma game park is a residential game park on South Africa's south coast containing rhino, buffalo, giraffe and zebra as well as cheetahs.

Guests can stay on tents or cabins on the park and take walking or driven game drives through its lush forest and grassland.

The Kragga Krama game park is a private reserve which offers visitors the chance to see wildlife close up. The family-run site lies close to Port Elizabeth in South Africa's Eastern Cape province, around 460 miles east of Cape Town.

It is home to several animal species including cheetah, giraffe, zebra and buffalo. The D'Mellos, who have two grown up children, are in South Africa for a month-long self-drive tour.

They arrived in Cape Town on April 17 and spent six days in the city before driving east along the country's Garden Route coastline. A cheetah expert said humans needed to be careful around big cats.

Professor Graham Kerley, head of zoology at the Centre for African Conservation Ecology, told the Herald that even captive animals were dangerous.

He said: 'Keep in mind that in the last 10 to 12 years, three people have been killed by captive lions. We mustn't pretend these are tame pussycats here.

'They are wild and should be considered dangerous.'

Kragger manager Dave Cantor has dismissed the attack as a 'freak incident'.

He said: 'They are pretty playful but they love human contact and we have never had an problem with them before. They usually purr like crazy when people stroke them.

'This time I think it was really just a freak incident. It was a long weekend and there were lots of children around the outside of the enclosure so perhaps the cheetahs got riled up.

'One of the children inside the enclosure then got pretty excited and started running, and perhaps that's what tipped them over the edge. It sounds like this lady stepped in to assist and the cheetahs then jumped on her.

'We love the cheetahs here and always saw Mark and Monty as ambassadors for the species. It was never about the money for us, but we have loved allowing people the chance to experience these beautiful creatures up close.

'We'll re-evaluate the situation in a week or two and may let people in again if we feel it is safe to do so.'



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