The couple visited a cheetah enclosure at the Kragga Kamma game reserve near Port Elizabeth last Saturday. The cheetah brothers, Mark and Monty, were hand-reared by park officials since birth.
“We were told they were completely tame,” Violet said.
The couple were in the enclosure with another family and watched one of the animals grab one of the children. The cheetah, under the impression that it was playing with seven-year-old Calum Malan, left her with multiple cuts and abrasions.
As Violet tried to stop one of the other children from running away, the cheetah knocked her to the floor, grazing and gouging her head.
Violet said: “They weren’t vicious. You could tell they were just excited, but it became serious very quickly.”
As their guide frantically tried to pull the large cat from Violet, she reacted in the safest way she knew – by playing dead while her husband was filming the entire ordeal.
“Something inside me just said, ‘Don’t move. Don’t move at all – don’t react, just play dead’.”
When the guide pulled the first cat off, its brother joined the fray, biting Violet’s legs and keeping her on the ground. The group struggled to get both cats off at once, but after a few minutes, she managed to make a run for the gate.
“This was meant to be a holiday, but it’s really turned into a nightmare,” Violet said.
Park manager Mike Cantor said: “It’s not something we’ve experienced before. We are investigating the matter to figure out what could have triggered the behaviour.”
Centre for African Conservation Ecology director Graham Kerley said that wild animals in captivity should not be treated as “tame pussycats”.
“They are wild, and should be considered dangerous.”
Kerley said that it is commonly known that cheetah are more likely to respond aggressively to small-bodied animals (such as children) than they are to adults, and warned parents against having their children in close proximity to these cats.
“The bottom line is, cheetah are wild animals, and adult cheetah have the capacity to hurt very badly,” he said.