Two cheetahs named Charlie and Matt are in the dog house for playing too rough and putting their owner in the hospital on March 29.
Judy Berens is a 58-year-old cat-lover who owns Panther Ridge Conservation Center, a 5-acre big-cat sanctuary in Wellington, Fla. Last December, she was thrilled to get the 2-year-old brothers from South Africa after trying for two years and spending $40,000.
She was in the cheetahs’ enclosure doing an exhibition for about 20 spectators to raise money for all her cats’ upkeep when one of the cheetahs got distracted by a kid bouncing a ball.
Judy recently said, “Matt is the wild man and Charlie is the scholar,” so Matt’s the prime suspect.
Cheetahs can run 70 mph, so when the cat lunged after that ball, he knocked Judy off her feet. Next thing she knew, she was being nipped and batted around like a big cat toy by two 100-pound cheetahs.
Using a common technique to get cats to back off, quick-thinking assistants sprayed water in their faces.
Judy sustained about 40 puncture wounds, but is expected out of the hospital today.
Judy has said the brothers love to rough-house. I think if they’d meant to hurt her, she’d have been shredded. Cheetahs can’t retract their claws, even if they want to, which gives them exceptional traction.
Charlie and Matt were born and raised in captivity, so they really like humans and purr when you rub their ears. Judy is training them to walk on a leash, sit on command, and do tricks to demonstrate their speed. Charlie’s said to be catching on faster.
In addition to the cheetahs, 21 other big cats live at Judy’s place, including a leopard, 2 jaguars, a serval, 4 clouded leopards, and 5 cougars.
Judy got into big cats after seeing Katharine Hepburn with a leopard in Bringing Up Baby. She told the Palm Beach Post, “I figured if she can have a leopard, why can’t I have an ocelot?”
Since Judy will be OK, I hope the cats don’t end up like Tatiana the tiger, who was killed for doing what comes naturally.