Violet D’Mello of Scotland was attacked by two young cheetahs in the petting area of the Kragga Kamma Game Park near Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Her husband captured the attack on camera. When Michelle Bodenheimer of Portland, Ore. heard about the attack, she was furious — those same two cheetahs injured her three years before.
After a Scottish tourist was mauled last week by two young cheetahs in the petting area of a wildlife park in South Africa, an American woman came forward to say she was badly hurt by the same two cheetahs in 2009.
Michelle Bodenheimer, a paralegal from Portland, Ore., said she was visiting the Kragga Kamma Game Park outside Port Elizabeth, South Africa, with her husband and friends. A park ranger took her to meet a docile, older cheetah named Duma in a large enclosure that included two 18-month-old cheetah brothers, Mark and Monty.
As Duma luxuriated in the sun, Bodenheimer, 33, crouched down next to the big cat to have their photo taken. That’s when something from behind pushed her down.
“I didn’t feel any pain when it happened,” she told msnbc.com in a telephone interview on Monday. “I started to pick myself up and (a cheetah) was wrestling and playing with Duma. I felt something warm on my head, and there was blood just pouring out.”
Bodenheimer believes the cheetahs were simply playing, but even so, they managed to shred her right ear, hook her ear canal with a claw and leave a 3- to 4-inch gash along her hairline. She suffered some hearing loss and still has scars, although they are fading.
At the time park officials reassured her that cheetahs Mark and Monty would be removed from the enclosure so the incident wouldn’t repeat itself.
“It’s evident these cubs are too big to have an enclosure with people,” Bodenheimer said. “I don’t want the cats to be put down or chained up, but they need to be moved to an enclosure where they are in contact with no one but their caretakers.”
After Violet D’Mello was attacked by two cheetahs, a girl who was also attacked and her brother have not been able to sleep well at night. Their father said they wake up screaming.
What would happen, Bodenheimer asked, if a tourist stepped on a cat’s paw, had the wrong smell or wore the wrong color? Mark and Monty may have been hand-raised by humans, but they are wild animals, she said.
“You don’t know how they’re going to respond,” she said.
Bodenheimer was treated at a hospital and South Africa and released a short time later.
As for Violet D’Mello, the Scottish tourist who was attacked just over a week ago, she said was traumatized by the event.
“They weren’t being vicious. You could tell they (the cheetahs) were just excited, but it became serious very quickly,” D’Mello told the Port Elizabeth Herald.
D’Mello said her husband was taking pictures of her with the cheetahs at the game park when one grabbed the leg of a child. The girl got free, although with deep scratches the required stitches.
Woman, child survive mauling by cheetahs at wildlife park
Then the cats pounced on D’Mello from behind. One pawed her head, and the other bit her legs, pinning her down.
“It all happened in just a few minutes,” she said of the April 28 incident, “but it was a nightmare.”
She was treated at a local hospital for wounds on her head and face.
The wounded child, Camryn Malan, had wanted to see the cheetahs after doing a school report on the animals. She reportedly received stitches on her leg.
Camryn’s father, Samuel Malan, said that Camryn and her brother don’t sleep well.
“They wake up screaming,” he said. “I keep seeing it … Just to see that thing biting that lady.”
Many animal preserves encourage tourists to interact with animals and cubs in separate enclosures under the watch of park rangers. That’s part of the fun, Bodenheimer said, and the idea is that tourists are then more connected to the game parks’ missions of rehabilitation and conservation of threatened and endangered animals.
Bodenheimer e-mailed the South Africa park ranger last week to say she was appalled that he hadn’t learned from her experience. She said he defended himself, saying that Mark and Monty were cubs when she met them. (Though young, she said, the cubs were “the size of a great Dane with a kitten mentality.”)
Park Manager Mike Cantor of Kragga Kamma Game Park told the Port Elizabeth Herald that he didn’t know what triggered the cheetahs’ actions. He said the park is reviewing its child admission policy.
“We have had incidents before where the results were just minor scratches, but nothing this hectic,” he said.
Reading those comments, Bodenheimer was upset.
“They paid my medical bills at the time,” she said. “They knew it was an issue.”
PORTLAND, Ore. – Ranger and Strike are big hits at the Oregon Zoo. The two brother cheetahs arrived in November last year and have entertained thousands with their antics. They’ve even provided a few scares.
“My nephew had gone up to the glass and had his hands up,” said Michelle Bodenheimer. “One of the cats turned and kind of hissed at him and we all jumped back.”
From behind the safety glass, it was an adrenaline rush for Michelle and her family. But Michelle’s first-ever encounter with a cheetah was much more serious.
“All I heard and felt was a large thud,” said Michelle. “And I was on the ground.”
Michelle was mauled by an 18-month old cheetah cub while at the Kragga Kamma Game Park in South Africa three years ago.
“I had a claw come across the top of my head leaving me with a three or four inch gash to my scalp,” she said.
She required dozens of stitches and says park authorities made her a promise after the mauling.
“They basically said it was clear those cats were too big, too strong, and too playful,” she said. “It was too dangerous to have them with people.”
But one of the same cheetahs is named in a recent publicized mauling of a British woman.
“It infuriates me to find out the park manager took no action to make sure they didn’t learn from my experience and see that it didn’t happen again,” said Michelle.
She has no hard feelings against the animal, which she believes was just playing.
“I do have a fondness in my heart for the big cats,” she said. “There are certain animals that represent the spirit of the wild.”
Michelle says she hopes people will learn from her mistake and treat all wild animals with caution no matter how tame they may seem.