British tourists Violet D’Mello, 60, and Archibald D’Mello from Aberdeen were posing with two cheetahs at the Kragga Kamma reserve in South Africa when one of the animals began attacking the woman, leaving her husband to photograph the event, according to The Huff Post.
The couple was told by staff at the Port Elizabeth game reserve that the cheetah brothers, Mark and Monty, were hand-reared from birth and “completely tame”.
Unsuspecting Violet, Archibald and another family with young children entered an enclosure with the cheetahs.
But just after they entered the petting area with a family with young children, one of the cheetahs grabbed a seven-year-old girl, leaving her with cuts on her legs and thighs, The Telegraph reports.
When Violet tried to intervene and to stop the girl’s brother from running to the gate, the cheetah turned on her, knocked her to the floor, grazing and gouging her head.
Violet D’Mello said it was clear the cheetahs were only playing at first and her husband Archie, 64, continued to take pictures.
“They weren’t vicious. You could tell they were just excited, but it became serious very quickly,” she said. Archibald took a series of terrifying photos of the attack.
Then a worker fended off the animal, but the other cheetah pinned down Violet, who eventually played dead to avoid further injury.
“You have to understand, these are big animals. Something inside me just said, ‘Don’t move. Don’t move at all – don’t react, just play dead’,” the woman said.
The cheetahs attacked the terrified tourist for around three minutes. Mrs D’Mello was heavily bleeding from a head injury and was taken to hospital where she received stitches on her leg and head and sustained injuries around her eye.
The doctors told the woman that she had a lucky escape and that cheetahs normally aim for the stomach, sometimes disemboweling their victims.
Now, the future of the cheetahs who attacked the tourist is unclear. “We will have to evaluate what to do and if the pressure is on us not to let visitors near them then we will find another way of keeping them here,” said Mike Cantor, manager at the Kragga Kamma game reserve.
“We got these guys when they were six months old and while they have on occasions been a bit over playful, we have never had any serious issues,” he said.
“This was just a particular set of circumstances that triggered this incident. We’re very upset about it and very sorry to those involved.”
He added: “I don’t think this incident has changed them – I have been into the enclosure with them since and they haven’t become man-eating savages.”
“The bottom line is, cheetahs are wild animals, and adult cheetah have the capacity to hurt very badly,” Graham Kerley, director for the Centre for African Conservation Ecology, said.
The couple were in South Africa for Violet D’Mello’s 60th birthday anniversary and decided to continue their trip.
“This was meant to be a holiday, but it’s really turned into a nightmare,” Mrs D’Mello said.