This is an interesting development in the aftermath of the well-publicised cheetah attack at the Kwa Cheetah facility, South Africa, on 10-year-old Aiden Davis. You can read about it on this page. It was highly traumatic for the boy and also his mother who is fighting for justice and compensation.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, a governmental organisation responsible for maintaining and regulating wildlife conservation in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa, has ordered the cessation of “commercial public exhibitions” at Kwa Cheetah in light of three attacks by the animals on visitors. The latest and most high profile attack is the one concerning young Aiden Davis which appears to be the straw which broke the camels back.
The shocking revelation which has emerged from this story is that the Kwa Cheetah facility had made applications for permits to keep cheetahs in captivity but have yet to receive approval from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. They were therefore operating without a licence. It would appear also, that the cheetah facility had not been fully inspected in order to assess whether a permit could be granted. Bearing in mind the attacks on visitors, the implication is that the facility will require work to bring its infrastructure up to scratch before a permit is granted.
The cheetah facility will now be investigated by the authorities, which may result in a demand for infrastructure improvements. In fact, from a layperson’s standpoint, common sense dictates that there should improvements to the infrastructure because they are inadequate to protect visitors.
As for the visitors, a spokesman, Clarke Smith, for Kwa Cheetah said that the project is not run for personal financial profit. In fact, he said that it runs at a loss.
However, in the past the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), had raised concerns about the facility in a letter to the authorities. Apparently, seven cheetahs were made available to the facility with the intention that they were to be rehabilitated and released into a reserve. Yet EWT discovered that the cheetahs were held in captive conditions and used for financial gain.
In addition, photographs indicated that the cheetahs were allowed to interact with domestic dogs, servals, leopards and other animals which undermine the objective of releasing the cheetahs back into the wild. The treatment of the cheetahs indicated that the final objective of the management at the facility was not to release cheetahs back into the wild as part of a conservation programme but to make money.
You may remember that Aiden’s mother is running a crowd funding programme to raise sufficient funds for medical treatment for her son. This is because those liable for her son’s injuries have failed to come clean and pay up. There is no doubt in my mind that Kwa Cheetah is liable. The recent developments referred to above must surely support my view and will certainly support Donette, Aiden’s mother, should she be forced to seek redress through litigation.
At this stage it would seem likely that Kwa Cheetah were operating under conditions which would have resulted in a failed application for a permit. Their facilities and procedures in respect of security for visitors were inadequate – the legal Latin term is res ipsa loquitur (“the thing speaks for itself”). This makes them liable for Aiden’s injuries.
Garth Carpenter, a wildlife expert with 60 years in conservation and an Hon member of Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife has written a report on the Kwa Cheetah facility focusing on safety and their stated objectives of conservation. I have summarised it and quoted some sections.
The fencing at Kwa Cheetah “is not suitable to confine powerful animals in a restricted enclosure”. It is called Bonnox Fence. Mr Carpenter has seen powerful carnivores breakthrough this sort of fencing. He states that diamond mesh fencing would be much safer. In addition, there is no buffer fence at this facility which would have protected the visitors.
Mr Carpenter reiterates what others have stated namely that if the owners of Kwa Cheetah genuinely wanted to reintroduce rehabilitated cheetah into the wild then “why is the general public allowed to interact with these animals-especially cubs that are patted, picked up, kissed and hugged? This results in human imprinting which makes them difficult to be released, once adult, into the wild.”
Mr Carter also makes the point that under the circumstances of its unnatural environment, a cheetah may treat the enclosure as his territory. This results in aggression towards intruders as a perceived threat, which leaves visitors at risk.
In addition, interacting with humans results in the animal losing its fear of humans which further exacerbates the risk to visitors.
Then there is the stress that affects an animal in artificial surroundings such as a relatively small enclosure; much smaller than its normal territory. Visitors such as children making noise may well increase stress levels in a cheetah, which treats the enclosure as his territory. If the animal becomes aggressively stressed this will be expressed in aggressive behaviour.
In conclusion, based upon what I read about this case, the Kwa Cheetah facility was substandard in a number of ways in respect of the welfare of the cheetahs and of human visitors. There were genuine risks to the health of both. These would have been quite likely picked up by the authorities with a demand that the deficiencies be rectified before a permit was granted.
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Source regarding closure of facility.