Boy finds cheetah in his garden
Last Updated: 9:07PM GMT 29 Oct 2008
When a nine-year-old boy ran to his mother shouting that there was a cheetah in the garden, she dismissed his claims as childhood excitement.
But when Julie-Ann Taylor looked out of the kitchen window she realising the surprising truth and saw a big cat attacking her son’s bicycle.
The 6ft long animal was just 15 feet from her son Toby when he spotted it. He dropped the bicycle he had been playing with and fled.
As he reached the house the three-year-old, 66lb (30kg) cheetah bit chunks out of the saddle and ripped the tyres with its claws.
It had escaped from a nearby animal sanctuary.
Mrs Taylor, 41, a housewife, said: “I started to have a go at Toby for slamming the door when he ran up to me shouting ‘Mummy, there’s a cheetah in the garden’.
“I thought he was pulling my leg but he was white, shaking and shrill.
“We peered out of the kitchen window and there it was, sitting bang in the middle of our lawn, looking towards the house.
“Then it got hold of Toby’s bike and started ripping it to bits. I was in a blind panic and didn’t know what to do so I phoned 999.”
Zoo keepers and police arrived, and animal handlers put the cheetah, called Akea, in the stables at the family’s farmhouse while they harnessed it. Apparently reluctant to return home, Akea tried to bite and scratch the handlers as they put the harness on.
Toby’s brother Oliver, 10, and his father Mark, 46, a surveyor, were not at home at the time.
Toby has since had nightmares over the incident. He said: “I panicked. It looked massive and really scary. I thought it would attack me. I ran as fast as I could.”
Hamerton Zoo, a conservation sanctuary in Cambridgeshire, where Akea normally stays, offers ‘Face to Face with a Cheetah’ sessions in more controlled circumstances, but children are not allowed to take part because of the risk.
Andrew Swales, from the zoo, said: “Akea was hand-reared from a tiny new-born cub by our head-keeper; and as a result is perfectly tame. We are sure that the problem was caused by a faulty electric-fencing unit, which has been replaced.
“When our keepers arrived in our neighbour’s garden, Akea was happily playing with a bicycle, which must have reminded him of one of his toys. He wouldn’t pose any danger, and his reaction to strangers would be the same as a pet dog, either a friendly greeting or a guarded retreat.”
Roger Mugford, an animal psychologist, said: “Cheetahs do tame quite well and do not tend to be a huge threat to people – they are not in the same league as tigers. They have been kept as pets by some Saudi princes.
“But they are capable of inflicting serious injuries. A nine-year-old boy could easily be taken by a fully-grown cheetah. Their real weapon is speed – they chase after prey and bring them down, but they have to be hungry. Luckily it seems this animal wasn’t.”
Cheetahs, which are classified as vulnerable in the wild, are the world’s fastest land animal, with a top speed of 70 miles per hour.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://bigcatrescue.org