31 October 2008
By Ed O’Mara
SAFETY officials have launched an investigation into how a cheetah escaped from Hamerton Zoo and ended up in a family’s garden.
Huntingdonshire District Council has sent officers to the wildlife park, near Sawtry, after a nine-year-old schoolboy came face-to-face with the big cat as he played on his bike.
It is thought the three-year-old predator had scaled an 8ft fence surrounding his outdoor enclosure, after a solar-powered electric fencing unit broke down.
A council spokeswoman said the zoo had notified officers about the escape, and an investigation was under way.
“Our environmental health officers are responsible for the licensing of zoos and dangerous animals,” the spokeswoman said.
“The zoo reported the escape to us, and we are aware that there was a faulty electric fence unit which has been replaced. We are now investigating.”
Police were called to Rookery Farm in Hamerton, which has land neighbouring the zoo, last Friday afternoon after Toby Taylor encountered Akea the cheetah in his garden.
The youngster retreated to the safety of his kitchen and watched as the animal began chewing on the saddle of his bike.
It is believed that Akea, who was hand-reared from a cub by keepers at Hamerton, may have been absent for up to three hours before he was recaptured.
Zoo director Andrew Swales said the cheetah was tame and posed no danger to humans, and he had been kept in a pen until the faulty fence was mended.
Mr Swales added that this was the first escape of a non-domesticated animal from the zoo since it opened in 1990.
He said: “As part of the terms of our zoo licence, we must inform the authorities if a non-domesticated animal gets outside our perimeter fence.
“This is the first time we have had to do this.”