A child from Cowan House Preparatory School in KwaZulu-Natal was on Thursday bitten on the shoulder by a cheetah at the KwaCheetah Breeding Project in the Nambiti Private Game Reserve near Ladysmith. The pupil was evidently grabbed through a fence by the cheetah. He was rushed to hospital and required stitches.
Park owner, Rob Le Sueur was not taking calls. The principle of Cowan House, Rob Odell, would not be drawn on the matter and would only say that wildlife experiences were important for children.
According to parents, the cheetah had been pacing up and down the fence line quite aggressively. He lunged at the group of children and grabbed a boy’s shoulder through the wire, fortunately missing his face.
According to its website, KwaCheetah offers “a truly life-changing experience” and allows guests to walk with and stroke the cats. The site has pictures of young people sitting next to cheetahs as well as the cats playing with a greyhound.
In August 2013 the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) reported concern that three young cheetahs that had been transferred to Nambiti for rewilding were in a captive facility at KwaCheetah.
They were told by Le Sueur that he intended to breed with them in captivity. EWT expressed concern that captive breeding is not beneficial for conservation and that in KawZulu-Natal wild animals were not permitted to be moved into captivity.
“The resources that go into rewilding cheetah are huge,” reads the report. “Three wild cheetahs that were hunting effectively were given to Nambiti Private Game Reserve in good faith, with the belief that they would released into the greater reserve.
“Instead these cheetahs are now being held in captive conditions in a ‘walking with cheetahs’ initiative. There are serious welfare and conservation implications associated with putting wild cheetah into captivity. It is recommended that these cheetahs are – rewilded again.”
According to Kelly Marnewick of EWT, these cheetahs are simply being used for financial gain. “Cheetahs can be easily tamed but at the end of the day they’re not safe,” she said, “especially around children. They’re wild animals.
“If they’re going to do these interactions – and I don’t think they should – they should take proper precautions. Cheetah’s can take down a kudu. They’re effective predators. If you’re going to breed them, it shouldn’t be in confinement.”
According to Marnewick, cheetahs reared by or habituated to humans have very poor chances in the wild because. “They instinctively know to hunt, but what to hunt is learned behavior,” she said. “Captive breeding for release doesn’t address any conservation issues.”
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