Today.com Mike Celizic and Meredith Vieira
Dear Mike Celizic and Meredith Vieira,
Re: Cheetah Attack
You missed the real story in the cheetah attack and that is that the
US Fish and Wildlife Service is scrambling to figure out how a private
collector managed to buy CITES 1 cats and import them into her back
yard from Savannah Cheetah Foundation in Africa. The facility she
bought them from is alleged to have taken animals from the wild to
breed and sell them which is illegal in S. Africa.
Import permits are only supposed to be issued for enhancement of the
species, but being used as ego props in a back yard collection hardly
enhances the species. Perhaps it is too far away to matter to some
people, but many of these breeding facilities in Africa claim to be
saving the cheetah from extinction when, in fact, they are just a
breeding farm for zoos and wealthy collectors. Cheetah are considered
vermin by so many of the locals that there are virtually no release
programs and yet these facilities gain support under the supposition
that they are saving the cats in the wild.
Another major factor that has been left our of your reports is that
there is a congressional bill, Haley's Act HR 1947 which would ban
contact between the public and big cats. It is expected to pass
unanimously this year, just like the Captive Wild Animal Safety Act
did in 2003 which banned the sale of big cats across state lines as
pets. The loophole that people like Berens use is that with a one
page form, asking for name, address and phone number and $40.00 they
can get a USDA exhibitor's permit, so they can have their pets and
call them a business expense. Even though the CWASA passed in 2003,
it only became law in late 2007 and the US Fish & Wildlife Service
defined a sanctuary as a facility that does not breed, buy, sell or
allow contact with their big cats. USDA just came out in strong
support of Haley's Act and went on to say that it should be even
stronger. You can read both at the links below:
Another inaccuracy in the report was to call a place that buys big
cats a sanctuary. As stated above, that does not meet the USFWS'
definition of a sanctuary nor does it meet the SanctuaryStandards.com
definition of a sanctuary. This is the first time I have ever heard a
reporter say that a place was accredited by the Feline Conservation
Federation as anyone who has access to google can see that they are
one of the leading proponents of keeping big cats as pets. No group
speaks out more loudly against measures that would protect the public
and the animals that are passing in state after state. They are a
small handful of people who assert it is their "God given right" to
own any kind of animal they want. Even some zoos are finally coming
to the realization that they just cannot give adequate space and care
to some species, even with their multi million dollar enclosures and
budgets, so why do these people who keep them in their back yard get
the support of Today?
For the cats,
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457
Sign our petition to protect tigers from being farmed here:
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only for the eyes of the individual or entity named above. You are hereby
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Cheetah mauling victim says she 'assumed risk'
Big cats' owner healing, renewing bond with 'Charlie' and 'Matt'
Woman survives cheetah attack
April 2: Animal advocate Judy Berens recounts being mauled by two
jungle cats and then defends them.
By Mike Celizic
updated 8:27 a.m. ET, Wed., April. 2, 2008
Just days after biting Florida conservation center owner Judy Berens
on the arms, legs and neck, two cheetahs at a Florida conservation
center were back to licking the hands that feed them.
Attacked on Saturday while giving an educational program at the
Panther Ridge Conservation Center that she owns in Wellington, Fla.,
Berens was back on the job on Tuesday. With NBC's Kerry Sanders and a
camera crew watching, she began reestablishing friendly relationships
with the cats by holding her fists to openings in a chain-link fence
and letting them lick her while she cooed sweet nothings in their
furry ears and asking Sanders, "How can you not love these animals?"
On Wednesday, she spoke with TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira, who
expressed wonder that Berens could even consider getting back into the
cheetah's den with the two big cats that treated her like a chew toy.
"What you don't understand is if you make a commitment to bring these
animals into your life and work with them, there is an assumed risk,"
a smiling Berens told Vieira. "Every so often you're going to have an
altercation where things don't go 100 percent."
Although medical personnel who treated her at Delray Medical Center
after Saturday's attack said she had 40 puncture wounds, the
58-year-old conservationist showed few signs of injury. A couple of
teeth marks on her neck were already scabbed over, and a bandage
wrapped a gash that had to be sewn closed on her right arm.
But, she had told reporters on Sunday, reports of the seriousness of
her injuries were greatly exaggerated.
The attack, she said, "was no big deal."
By her account, it wasn't really an attack at all but more a case of
mistaken identity. While she was giving her presentation for a group
of 30-40 people on Saturday, the two cheetahs – Matt and Charlie –
were distracted by a boy kicking a soccer ball outside the fence. They
ran for the ball and encountered Berens.
"Any big cat, when they lose their focus, they will jump in on
whatever is the next available thing, and in this case it was me," she
One cat knocked Berens down and both cats clawed and bit her. One of
the males clamped down on her leg and wouldn't let go volunteers who
work at the center entered the enclosure with a water hose and a rake
and sprayed and prodded the cheetah until he released his grip.
Berens walked out of the enclosure and was airlifted to Delray Medical Center.
"I really was totally surprised," she told NBC. "It was really an
accident. It seemed it was over in a matter of seconds."
Today Judy Berens Berens told Vieira that she would go over all her
protocols to see if there is something she should change in the
future. But her first concern was to regain the trust and friendship
of the cheetahs, which are among 23 cats she keeps at her center.
"I'll go on a day-by-day basis, rebonding with these animals, and see
what happens," she told Vieira. "Yes, I'm going to be much more
vigilant, but the bonding between these animals and me is what makes
this place special."
Built for speed
Cheetahs, which grow to about 140 pounds, are the animal kingdom's
land-speed record holders, accelerating from 0-60 mph in under three
seconds and are capable of hitting top speeds of 75 mph. But they're
the scaredy-cats of the African savannah, and there has never been a
documented case of a cheetah attacking a human in the wild.
The species is endangered by poaching and habitat loss.
Matt and Charlie were born in a private breeding facility in South
Africa, and Berens spent two years and $40,000 working to obtain them
and bring them to her sanctuary in Florida.
Berens, 58, has worked with big cats for 15 years and is licensed to
own and care for them.
Panther Ridge Conservation Center is accredited by the Feline
Conservation Federation and is federally licensed to exhibit big cats.
In addition to the cheetahs, it houses ocelot, cougar, African
leopard, clouded leopard, serval, caracal and jaguar.
Berens provides housing and care for the cats, some of which are
rescued from private collections, and conducts public education
programs about the animals.
She also participates in various programs dedicated to preserving
endangered species and reintroducing them in the wild.
Matt and Charlie, she said, "are here to be educational ambassadors.
I'm trying to raise awareness and inspire people to become more
involved with conservation efforts."