Cheetahs maul caretaker
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By JANE MUSGRAVE
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 29, 2008
WELLINGTON — The owner of a wildlife sanctuary was mauled by two cheetahs at the Panther Ridge Sanctuary on Saturday evening while about 20 horrified visitors looked on.
Judy Berens was giving an exhibition with two of the large wildcats around 6 p.m. when one of them became distracted by a ball a child was bouncing outside the enclosure, said Gabriella Ferraro, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. As the cheetah ran toward the ball, it knocked its 58-year-old caretaker to the ground. The cats then jumped on her, biting and clawing her repeatedly, she said.
Berens was airlifted to Delray Medical Center for treatment of about 40 puncture wounds to her arms, legs and back, she said. Later in the evening, Berens spoke with a center volunteer and said she was likely to be discharged on Monday.
"She is lucky" Ferraro said.
Two volunteers helped save her from further injury by grabbing hoses and spraying the cats until they released her, she said.
The event that spiraled out of control was part of a fund-raiser Berens was having for the sanctuary that is also known as the Panther Ridge Conservation Center.
Despite the attack no laws were broken, Ferraro said. The cheetahs were returned to their cages and no further action is expected. The cheetahs - 2-year-old males- arrived at the compound about three months ago from South Africa, she said.
Wildlife officials inspected the state-licensed facility earlier this year and found everything in order, she said.
Berens turned her 10-acre farm off 50th Street South into a sanctuary about five years ago. She cares for about 20 abandoned exotic cats, including caracals, jaguars, tigers and panthers.
In 2005, a 500-pound Bengal tiger escaped from its unlatched cage. It was shot with a tranquilizer. It never left the fenced compound.
Florida leads the nation in the number of attacks, maulings and deaths by wild cats, according to a Web site operated by Big Cat Rescue. From 1990 through 2007, 15 adults and five children nationwide have been killed by wild cats and 175 people have been mauled.
In Florida, four people have been killed and 21 mauled in the same 17 years, the group reports. The last fatal attack in Florida occurred in July 2001 when a 500-pound male Siberian tiger at Savage Kingdom in Center Hill, east of Orlando, broke into an adjoining cage and attacked a workman who was making repairs. The facility was shut down in 2006.
Berens gives tours and exhibitions to help defray the costs of caring for the animals. According to her Web site, her annual food bill is $30,000 and her annual vet bill is around $15,000.
In a 2003 interview, Berens said her passion had risks. Further, while an avid lover of the wild animals, she didn't encourage others to follow her lead.
She said she fashioned herself after Katharine Hepburn's leopard-owning character in Bringing up Baby.
"I figured if she can have a leopard, why can't I have an ocelot?" she said.
Carole's note: Her stupid comment at the end is exactly why displaying big cats as tractable is harmful to people and the cats. If show biz had not portrayed Hepburn as a master of the leopard, Berens might not have shelled out 7500.00 for her Jaguars that she bought from Lance Ramos, nor the 40,000 she paid for the Cheetahs. Buying cats is not rescuing them and we figured that out ten years ago. Exhibiting them as pets, even if you are saying that other people should not, just continues the spiral of abuse caused by supply and demand.