Cheetah Injury a Rare Event

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Like all professional handlers at zoos and other conservation centers and facilities, Ms. Berens understands the work-related hazards associated with exotic cats. Statistics show Injuries from cheetah are very rare, but under certain circumstances, any animal, whether domestic or wild, can be stimulated to bite or scratch.

Panther Ridge Conservation Center founder Judy Berens was injured by her two cheetahs Saturday during an educational fund raiser at the center in Wellington, Florida. Ms. Berens, who was in the cat's enclosure, was the only person injured. The adult males had been hand raised in Africa and came to the U.S. as two-year-olds to act as educational ambassadors.

Panther Ridge Conservation Center is accredited by the Feline Conservation Federation. FCF accreditation committee chairperson Kevin Chambers says, "Felines at Panther Ridge receive exceptional care and enrichment to keep them healthy and mentally stimulated. The center is well designed and excels in husbandry practices and maintains written contingency plans. "

"This was an unfortunate incident," Chambers notes, " but, the public was never in danger." The FCF accreditation committee will review the facility's protocol to see if any changes are recommended. A spokesperson for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has stated it appears that no violations and no laws were broken.

Preliminary reports are that a young attendee at the function excited one of the cheetahs by kicking a ball outside the enclosure. The cheetah ran towards the ball and in the process knocked Ms. Berens to the ground. As a result, she sustained multiple punctures and scratches. She received intravenous antibiotics and some stitches at the Delray Medical Center.

Panther Ridge is an important conservation education link that serves the community by bringing awareness of wild felines and natural ecosystem threats. Large felines are especially important in nature as their predation balances the more numerous prey populations. Cheetahs in Africa are endangered due to poaching and habitat loss. Ms. Berens and the Feline Conservation Federation understand that cheetahs in captivity are even more at risk and need to be protected from harm.

Panther Ridge Conservation Center is state licensed to maintain clouded leopard, ocelot, jaguar, black leopard, as well as cheetah and other feline species. The facility also holds a federal license to exhibit and is inspected by U.S. Department of Agriculture animal care officers.

Like all professional handlers at zoos and other conservation centers and facilities, Ms. Berens understands the work-related hazards associated with exotic cats. Being bitten or scratched is a possibility. "It's something you can expect if you're going to be dealing with these animals," Ms. Berens said.

Statistics show injuries from cheetah are very rare, but under certain circumstances, any animal, whether domestic or wild, can be stimulated to bite or scratch. The larger the feline, the greater potential injury, which is why the Feline Conservation Federation Big Cat Policy discourages novice ownership of the large cat species.

Feline Conservation Federation members are educators, trainers, private owners, and those who manage felines at sanctuary, zoological and conservation facilities. FCF president Lynn Culver says, "Ms. Berens is a very dedicated conservationist, attending many educational seminars nationally. She has a long record of supporting felid conservation globally. Her contribution to conservation is important work. FCF supports her fully and we wish her a quick and complete recovery."

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