Schoolboy Punched Cheetah As He Fought for His Life

The title is a bit misleading in my opinion and it certainly does not convey the full story although I can only make a judgement based upon the story’s narrative which originates from the Times newspaper. I have adopted the newspaper’s headline.


A 10-year-old boy, Aiden Davis, was forced to punch a cheetah in order to force the cat to release him from his jaws. What is surprising is that the cheetah was behind a fence when he grabbed and bit the boy. I don’t believe his life was not at stake but it must have been shocking.


The event occurred at the Kwa Cheetah breeding centre at the Nambiti game reserve, near Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. So the cheetah, a large male, was behind the fence of an enclosure.

The boy’s stepfather, Craig Fry said:

“As the kids turned, the cat ran full speed into the fence and hit it at full speed. His head went through it, his paws went through it, and the fence pushed out giving him extra distance to grab the kids. He bit down on Aiden’s shoulder blade.”

So you can see that this cheetah did something abnormal in my opinion. He charged at a fixed object at full speed which was liable to result in injury. Cheetahs don’t do that sort of thing. In the wild, cheetahs avoid being injured because even small injuries can have a detrimental effect upon that which they rely upon to eat: their speed. Without their speed they cannot survive.

I would suggest, therefore, that this cheetah was, for want of a better description, mentally unbalanced or desperate to attack a child as prey. If there is a mental imbalance it is possibly due to the fact that he is in an unnatural environment which is probably leading to stress and frustration. I realise that the purpose of this breeding centre is to try and build up the cheetah population as they are released into the wild, we are told, but to me the whole process is artificial and unnatural. More resources need to be directed at true conservation rather than a cycle of killing and breeding. Is this captive breeding population self-sustaining? Or do they have to import cheetahs from the wild to sustain it?

Back to the story….The cat having forced his head through the wire fencing was able to grab the boy’s rucksack and in doing so pull the boy back so hard that he fell. At this point the cheetah started biting the boy on his left shoulder and under his arm and on his chest.

School friends tried to pull Aiden free but the cat refused to give up his prey until a nearby handler ran across and forced his fingers up the animal’s nostrils whereupon the cheetah released the boy.

Apparently, the same cat had attacked an elderly woman the day before. He had torn away chunks of flesh on her left arm and bit her on her head. She is recovering in hospital. Further, in June of this year another visitor to the reserve, Leslie-Anne Marais was also attacked by a large male cheetah called Sky. I don’t know whether this is the same cat. Again the cheetah refused to let go until a worker at the breeding centre clamped his hand over the cat’s nose.

We are told that the centre is open to visitors shortly before the cats are due to be released into the wild (is that relevant?) Aiden’s experience has left him in fear of cheetahs. He used to like them but now he says that he doesn’t. What can you expect? Aiden’s school reported that he had suffered “a few scratches”. It was worse than that because he needed stitches.

What I can expect and what the public should expect is for people to find more enlightened and sustainable ways to protect the cheetah in the wild. It is time to stop the commercialisation of beautiful wild cat species. South Africa appears to be the centre of this sort of commercialisation. There are many canned lion hunts in South Africa where lions are bred for the sole purpose of being killed at close range by rich trophy hunters. It is quite bizarre. South Africans are feeding the bloodlust mentality of trophy hunters.

24 thoughts on “Schoolboy Punched Cheetah As He Fought for His Life”

  1. Hi Michael, Michele et al

    I tried to respond and upload an image, but my computer took me elsewhere.

    My response was simply thanking you for your interest and comments. I absolutely realise to what you were referring now. Mother’s emotions are running high, between anger, resentment, sympathy for those poor animals, injustice, disgust that money seems to be the pivotal argument, and gratitude that my boy is still alive.

    Thank you for your interest, and discussion. One hopes and prays that of this tragedy, something positive, for both the animals, and the victims, will emerge.

    The graphic image I tried to upload may well be censored, for me it is horrific – and my son went 9 hours without ‘proper’ treatment, by which time infection had set in and was rife. It has not been displayed anywhere, and is one of the lesser graphic ones. I will email it to Michael instead.

    I am absolutely delighted that he is in good spirits, but was saddened that he did not want to hold a baby hedgehog the other day ๐Ÿ™ Time is a great healer ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Donette, many thanks. I have added the image to the page if that is okay.

      I did not realise that you are Aiden’s mother. Or do I have that wrong? Sorry if I have. I am bit confused.

      • Hi Michael,

        Yes ๐Ÿ™‚ I am Aiden’s mother. Which is why I know the horror of the injuries, and the effect it has had not only on Aiden and our family, but the other children who witnessed the event and then were forced to go on the game drive afterwards, including Aiden. While we initially decided not speak to any press about it, in an effort to protect Aiden, the school and the centre, our hands were forced after 4 days or so, especially when we became aware of the elderly lady, and Lesley Anne, both families of whom had contacted us.

        This tragic incident has also highlighted the plight of these cats, and I believe something positive will happen for their benefit. I hope so.

        • Thanks Donette. Being his mother makes your input through comments invaluable. It is quite rare to receive comments from people with first hand experiences. Many thanks again for your comments and the photo. It is a bit unpleasant but it is the truth. It is important to see the truth. I hope your son gets over the experience fully in due course.

        • Donnette: Oh my, those injuries are truly horrendous and for the centre to have delayed Aiden’s access to medical treatment was very callous. No wonder this attack has caused your son both physical and emotional trauma. I wish him well in his recovery and hope that with time he can put this nightmare experience behind him.

          Better safety measures should have been put into place after the first cheetah attack on a visitor. Given that cheetahs can accelerate from 0-60mph in approx. 2 seconds, the safety zone should always have been at least 4 metres around the enclosures to prevent any potential for momentum to allow them to reach through the fence to grab a visitor.

          I can understand the centre wanting to avoid publicity about these attacks, but the safety of visitors/staff and the welfare of the cats themselves, are issues which urgently need to be addressed.

          • Thank you Michele.

            Although I have written a lot in this forum, I have been fairly silent elsewhere, although actively involved in social media as a career. My son’s welfare is and always has been my priority, so you can imagine the surprise when informed the injuries were “only a few scratches”. I only discovered the severity in the evening on his return.

            I am actually at a loss for words. The truth of the matter is that the teacher elected to take the children on a safari/game drive after Aiden’s incident – he was in excruciating agony, and from reports by the other parents of the children who witnessed the incident, they were equally terrified which has manifested in their normal lives now. However, praise has been given to the teacher in charge and the centre for their wonderful ‘quick’ action. I wonder if there would have been a similar response had it been their child. In any event I digress.

            I have been trying to be factual without letting the emotions creep in and cloud my judgment, but anger, despondency, frustration, heartbreak all threaten to suffocate me – particularly now that there has been a written denial of any liability from the institutions concerned.

            I will fight for my son, and I will fight for the release of the cheetah into their natural habitats, and again, pray that some good will come of this tragedy.

            • Michele, by the way – just an aside, this is the first public/online/printed photograph of the gravity of the injuries, appearing on Michael’s wonderful website. The others were considered too graphic to be published.

              I thank you for taking an interest in Aiden and in the welfare of these magnificent creatures who need to be where God intended – in the wild, running free, to be and exist naturally.

              • Donnette: I’m so sorry to hear how appallingly the whole incident has been handled by those concerned. It’s shameful that they’ve denied any liability. I get the impression they wanted this hushed up as quickly as possible ๐Ÿ™

                I can’t begin to imagine how you must be feeling, but you have my admiration for the way you’re handling this. I can quite easily imagine how some parents might have been straight in touch with a lawyer and the media.

                Kwa Cheetah breeding centre is considered ‘questionable’ on that FB page โ€˜Volunteers in Afria Bewareโ€™. I get the impression it’s because the centre allows visitors close contact with the cheetahs. However in light of recent revlations, I’m now concerned for the safety of the volunteers at this organisation. Without immediate change, I fear it may only be a matter of time before another attack occurs.

                The centre also needs to consider that the cheetahs are either becoming increasingly frustrated at being confined, or are stressed by their living conditions/other factors. Unless the animals are eventually returned to the wild, they might as well just call themselves a zoo if they’re going to charge the public to see captive wild animals.

          • Well said Michele. It is always the case: businesses protect their profit and their attitude confirms to me that they exist primarily as a business and not as a true charitable conservation organisation.

  2. Hi Mike. Unfortunately some of the reports I have read are either compiled to sensationalise or minimise the incident. If I might comment on a number of aspects.
    1. The children were the designated two and a half metres away from the enclosure boundary. The handler was inside the enclosure. He instructed the children to move backwards because the cheetah in question (it was not Sky) was pacing the boundary fencing. According to the centre, the cheetah appeared appeared to be very agitated. There is no double boundary fencing.
    2. As the children turned to moved away (they were not stationary) the cheetah charged at the fence. The fencing is not that which is prescribed.
    3. The cat managed to get his head and paws through the fence, which had, due to the momentum of his 20+ metre charge, given an additional metre or two leeway, and managed to grab Aiden and pull him to the ground where he started biting him.
    4. Stitches were required – and this took two hours in surgery, after chunks of his flesh were torn out on the shoulder, back, arm, chest. The wounds down his spine, neck and stomach area were not stitched, but were treated.
    5. According to the centre’s owner, the children were well-behaved on the day and there was no taunting or teasing of the animals. To suggest that both the elderly lady (who had been a regular visitor to the centre) and the children taunted the animals is unreasonable.
    6. The cheetah in question weights 60kg, as opposed to Aiden, who weighs in at a mere 27kg. The weight combined with the speed and subsequent impact I am sure plays a role in the cheetah extending his “reach”.
    7. The cheetah’s handler acted very quickly, although he was some 20-30 metres away, inside the enclosure, when he saw the animal charge at the group of children who were moving back as they had been instructed.
    8. The cats have been “trained” to hunt by devoted handlers, pending their reintegration into the wild.
    9. The cheetah in question is a sub-adult, at 3 years old.
    10. There is a height sign, as suggested above. I understood this was for children “entering” the enclosure, not for school groups standing at designated areas outside of the enclosures.

    11. Lesley-Anne was bitten whilst in the enclosure with a cheetah and the handler.

    I do not know enough to know whether the cat was being territorial, or whether it is the absolute frustration of having people peering at you through fencing, and being unable to be as nature intended. As it is mentioned above by Michele, to refer to “idiots” I am hoping does not refer to 9-10 year old school children, who by the very nature of the excursion, rightly had the belief, and expectation, that they were protected.

    Either way it is a tragedy for both Aiden, his classmates who not only witnessed the incident, but 2 of them actually placed themselves in danger by trying to pull Aiden out of the cheetah’s grasp; and it is tragic for the cheetah, whose life is governed by humans, and I only hope and pray that something positive can be derived from this incident.

    • Thanks a lot Donette for taking the time to add some real hard truths and detail. I wish I had these facts earlier. The entire problem is “man-made”. Not matter how we analyse it, it comes down to a human issue as the cheetah is simply acting naturally under the circumstances in which he finds himself. I dislike the whole thing. I’d much rather these places were unnecessary and more funds were invested in true conservation. Breeding cheetahs is very tricky. They don’t do well in captivity. For me there are still a lot of questions. The breeding centre presents this wonderful image. I am sure ther are a lot of good things and good intentions but….

      • Hi Mike, Thanks for that.

        I did not know a lot about the Centre, but obviously have spent the last few days, after getting over the initial trauma and shock, doing vast amounts of research. I am no expert on wildlife, in particular cheetah, although we are involved with wildlife conservation.

        The centre does portray an image, as can be seen by the website, of something contrary to preventing them from being human imprinted in order to prepare them for release.

        I do believe that three confirmed, two unconfirmed, attacks in a couple of months at the same centre, suggests there is a very serious problem that needs to be addressed now – not in 6 months or a year, but now. These animals are at risk as well.

        I truly do hope that people put aside the $ sign and go back to the drawing board and see that these animals have a life to live, in the wild, to be free and not have to be subjected to a life which is contrary to their natural instincts.

        I, as a mother of a child who is seriously injured, cannot blame the animal, and I cannot blame the children or the lady. Sanity and common sense need to prevail.

        Okay, rant over ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you for your valuable information. I learned a lot and will continue to learn as I seek answers to the many questions I have.

        • Totally agree. The cheetah must not be harmed because of this. If he is then humans are simply compounding their errors (which is not unusual for humans).

    • Donnette: I was referring to the numerous adult, human idiots who deliberately crossed safety barriers to get closer to wild animals.

      As this cheetah attack is allegedly the third one in recent months at Kwa Cheetah breeding centre, it raises serious questions about their safety protocols.

      Equally important, if the cheetahs are being bred or rehabiliated for introduction into the wild, then why are they on public display and visitors allowed to have physical contact with them?

      • Absolutely Michelle, the last paragraph of your comment is a very good observation and it crossed my mind actually. It seems to me that this centre is commercialising the process of breeding these cats which to me undermines their raison d’รชtre.

      • So right, Michele.
        If there was a real interest in introducing these cats into the wild, these cats wouldn’t be on display to the public. In fact, they would be shielded from human contact.
        My belief is that the “park” is exploiting and guilty of negligence as well as deliberate indifference (because this was not an isolated occurrence).

          • Michele, the more I have read about wild cats in South Africa, the more I understand that it is almost always about making money. It is does not matter the configuration of the organisation. The objective is to make financial profit out of the wild cats of Africa. They dress up what they do with the word “conservation”. Even the trophy hunters say they are involved in conservation. You can dress any amount of killing of wild cats in the clothes of conservation. For me it is nearly always BS.

  3. Most enclosures here have double fencing (about one foot apart) where no one would be able of making physical contact with any animal and vise versa.
    The occurrences were complete negligence on the part of the “park”.
    However, we don’t know if the children or the elderly woman taunted the cat or not.
    That cat was capable of much more extensive injuries than a few scratches.
    The cat isn’t mentally unbalanced; the people running the “park” are.

    • Yes, I agree that people are mentally unbalanced ๐Ÿ˜‰ but their behaviour stresses cats causing abnormal behaviour in cats. I can’t see charging at a fence as normal cat behaviour no matter what is on the other side.

  4. “As the kids turned, the cat ran full speed into the fence and hit it at full speed.”

    My first thought was the cheetah viewed the kids as prey. Then I came across this comment on FB

    “I visited the Kwa Cheetah breeding centre at the Nambiti game reserve only last month (my current profile picture is of Sky). Parents are warned to keep their children away from the fence line and close to them, as the Cheetahs will see them as prey.”

    Why was there no safety barrier or fence to prevent visitors getting too close to the enclosures? Most places which house wild animals have safety fencing for the very reason that idiots will always ignore the warning notices.

    • Thanks for this Michele. I don’t think cheetahs naturally treat humans as prey. Perhaps they treat kids as prey but not adults. But to slam into a fence like that seems to me to be unnatural. Almost desperate behaviour. I agree with your assessment about proper fence based on your research that parents are warned to keep kids off the fence.

    • Cheetahs very rarely attack people and when they do it is usually going to be a child who provokes the hunting instinct. I think this is a strange incident. It appears to be a children problem or a parental problem combined with poor security.


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