WATCH | Cheetah attacks international volunteer in SA

Nivashni Nair Senior reporter
Amandine Lequime, a volunteer from Belgium, was filming outside the cheetah’s enclosure, while her colleague was on feeding duty. As soon as her colleague opened the enclosure gate, one of the cheetahs swiftly approached Lequime, jumping on her back and aiming for her throat.
Amandine Lequime, a volunteer from Belgium, was filming outside the cheetah’s enclosure, while her colleague was on feeding duty. As soon as her colleague opened the enclosure gate, one of the cheetahs swiftly approached Lequime, jumping on her back and aiming for her throat.
Image: Tambako The Jaguar/ Flickr

“I lost my balance and fell to the ground, where the cheetah continued to bite and claw my arms and legs until the facility manager succeeded in getting the cheetah away from me.”

These are the words of Amandine Lequime, a volunteer from Belgium, who was attacked by a captive cheetah at a captive wildlife facility in SA last month.

Lequime was filming outside the cheetah’s enclosure, while her colleague was on feeding duty. As soon as her colleague opened the enclosure gate, one of the cheetahs swiftly approached Lequime, jumping on her back and aiming for her throat.

“I ended up in hospital for treatment of several deep bite marks and cuts that caused muscle damage and required stitches,” she said.

“The manager told us volunteers to balance the meat tray on our heads while walking into the cheetah enclosures, so the cheetahs can’t knock the tray out of our hands.

“Although the facility pleaded with me to keep the incident quiet, I don’t want other volunteers to go through similar frightening experiences. People need to understand that to be close to wild animals is appealing, but not safe,” she said.

Blood Lions — a global campaign known for blowing the lid off claims made by the predator breeding and canned hunting industries — claim that the incident was not a stand-alone story, “as many paying volunteers and tourists have been attacked by captive big cats in SA over the last decade or so”.

They declined to say where exactly the incident happened.

We can only hope that Amandine will be one of the last victims,” Blood Lions said in a statement.

Most of the 60-odd facilities in SA that offer volunteering opportunities with large carnivores will use direct, hands-on interaction as their main draw card, the organisation said.

“However, this comes with a huge health and safety risk. We are aware of 50+ incidents involving captive lions, tigers and cheetahs that have been reported in the media — knowing that many more go unreported. A third of the reported victims weren’t as lucky as Amandine and sadly lost their lives during the attacks or as a result of their injuries.

“As is the case at many so-called 'sanctuaries', the big cat enclosures at the facility where Amandine Lequime volunteered are designed incorrectly, lacking the required management enclosures separating predators from people. This poor layout forces inexperienced international volunteers (and staff alike) to be in the same space as the predators while performing their feeding and cleaning duties.”

Blood Lions said it was important to note that captive wildlife often display high stress levels adding further complications to an already volatile and unnatural situation.

“This latest incident highlights the importance of the High-Level Panel’s recommendations for an immediate halt to tourist interactions with captive lions, including so-called voluntourism, cub petting, etc.

“It also emphasises the need to extend the captive lion recommendations to all other captive big cats, including all exotic species such as tigers,  and reinforces the need to immediately apply the Southern African Tourism Services Association animal interaction guidelines throughout our tourism sector.”

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