Kids want to be close to animals. Zookeepers know this, which is why they put up signs and walls to keep little humans and predators apart. Even so, sometimes nature and family collide. A rather remarkable video of such an event just surfaced. In it, a family exits a vehicle inside a wildlife park in Hollard to take pictures of big cats. Several cheetahs, seeing this, immediately go into hunt mode. No one dies, but it’s a narrow miss. According to the park manager Niels de Wildt, the family in question is lucky that the cheetahs were defending their territory instead of scraping together a hot dinner of stupid tourist. Things could have ended much worse.
The clip shows the family standing on top of a grassy knoll a few dozen yards from their parked car. The cheetahs, who are allowed to roam freely through the park, took notice of their presence a few minutes earlier when the family had stopped to take pictures of them. Once the family was away from the car and the initial resting place of the cheetahs, two of the big cats ran over and chased them away back into the car.
Beyond exiting the vehicle against the very obvious orders of the safari, the family made the mistake of turning their back to the animals. As big cat expert Dolph Volker points out in this video, turning your back to any big cat tells them that you’re a vulnerable target. Even though cheetahs are far less aggressive than lions and tigers, it’s no guarantee they won’t attack a human who shows them his or her back (unless they recognize that person).
There aren’t any statistics regarding exactly how many people get hurt at zoos or while on safari every year, but it’s well known that instances of a person being mauled or killed in situations like the one that took place in Holland are rare, simply because most people who go on safari or visit a zoo will never put themselves in that position.
Fortunately, both the cheetahs and the family walked away without being hurt, and that’s usually not the case in a situation like this. Most notably, in 2016 Harambe the gorilla was killed after thrashing around a young child who walked into his enclosure, but the child survived. Tatiana, a four-year-old Siberian tiger at the San Francisco Zoo was shot to death by police in 2007 after she leaped out of her enclosure at two men who were throwing rocks at her, killing one and seriously injuring the other.