Opinion: Human Interaction with Cheetahs, Other Big Cats, is DangerousPublished August 31, 2011
Marlice Van Vuuren with Cheetah: Wikipedia
I have never been on Safari, so I can only imagine how thrilling and breath-taking it would be to see a magnificent family of cheetahs strolling leisurely through the tall grasses, within walking distance from the vehicle in which I was riding. I am sure my heart would skip more than a beat or two.
And even if I were a professional “handler,” like van Vuuren, with years of experience of working with these beautiful big cats, just the very thought of actually getting out of my car to approach them would be the farthest thing from my mind.
Winding up in the faces of these animals is not only disrespectful of them, but it can also set the stage for potential dangers to arise from human-big cat interaction.
Although the odds of folks traveling through Africa and finding themselves in close proximity of wild cheetahs (let alone actually stopping and leaving their car to walk among them) are probably slim to none, some people who watched A Brave Woman Teases Wild Cheetahs, a video uploaded to YouTube by soroush9, might try to emulate Marlice van Vuuren, underestimating the dangers they are facing when attempting to play with the cats.
Additionally, in a subtle way, the video may even promote the notion that these wild cats can be transitioned into pets.
In my opinion, for both the safety of the cheetahs (and in fact all wild animals) and humans, it is essential that there be no personal interaction with the cats. And while the “Born Free” mentality may still persist, these animals must maintain their fear of humans, for all our sakes.
While it may be tempting to try to “befriend” cheetahs so they are no longer afraid, even the most well-intentioned interaction adds to the growing conflict that develops between people and big cats. These “friendly” encounters can certainly become an invitation to hungry wild cheetahs fearlessly visiting our camping grounds and villages, with the tragic end of attacking and eating our children and pets.
Take a moment to watch the video and consider the potential “dark side” of personal encounters with wild animals. The video clip is in French; Gadling provided the English translation for Marlice van Vuuren’s description of her experience.
“If I lower myself down to their level, they'll approach as we appear to be of similar size," she says. "I'm doing this to show how cowardly they are, not to tease them ... But also, to get a rush of adrenaline."
She continues: "As soon as you turn your back on them, they attack ... As soon as you look them in the eyes, they're afraid of you ... If you run, you're prey. But, if you turn around, they stop ... I think they've had enough”.
What are your thoughts about people interacting with wild big cats? Share them in a comment.