Cheetahs On The N2 Capetown And Sensationalist Journalism

Jan Leeming

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Jan's Blog

Computers and the internet are amazing things. One of my concerns with putting together this site was that it could remain current, yet with all my travelling I've often much to say, but little time to say it. Years ago when reading the news it would take me days on end to reply to the kind letters people sent. Now, with the magic of the modern age, I can keep you up to date with what I'm doing and other events in my life.

CHEETAHS on the N.2, Capetown -and sensationalist journalism

Date: 5th December 2008

Let me state that I am not a journalist.  I have worked as a reporter, have been an interviewer for most of my working life but I am not, categorically am not a journalist.  Sadly I have scant respect for most of them.  With few exceptions they are all after 'The story' and the facts can go by the board.  Even a boss for whom I had the greatest respect once told me 'not to bother him with the facts as he was writing the story'!  There are exceptions but they are rare.

As you will know if you've followed my Blog, I am passionate about Cheetahs and have worked with them.  I am far far from being an expert but I do know a fact or two about these gorgeous creatures.  My blood boiled the other day when a friend in the UK emailed me the following story from the Cape Times for 3rd December.   

***********************************************         

"They forced their way out a moving vehicle and fled down the N2 on Tuesday, instilling fear in all those who saw them, even causing a police officer to run for cover.

 But these were no hardened criminals intent on escape: they were two seven-month-old cheetahs who decided to make a break for it and go for a run.

And luckily for these cats, their curiosity did not end in tragedy.
 
 They were safely recaptured and no one was injured in the process.
  Chip, a male, and Belle, a female, were being transported from a routine veterinary check-up in Cape Town back to the Cheetah Outreach Programme sanctuary at Spier when they escaped at 1.20pm.

Dawn Glover, the Cheetah Outreach's education officer, said it happened as the vehicle slowed down and turned on to Baden Powell Drive.
"The window was closed so they could not put their heads out between the bars, but the two managed to push it open.
 
 "Once it was open they were putting their noses out, much like dogs do, and managed to break the pop rivets, and then they pushed the bars out of the way and jumped out of the window and ran down the N2," she said.
  The cubs' handlers immediately started looking for them.
 Glover said members of the public had spotted Chip running towards Cape Town near Mew Way and called Spier.
 The Metro Police then called and directed the handlers to a fence near the R300 bridge where Chip was lying.
 
 Glover said Beryl Patterson, the Cheetah Outreach's education officer, arrived and managed to get Chip back in the vehicle.
  He had then started "chirping", the term used to describe the call of a cheetah.
 "When he did this one of the bystanders told (Patterson) that he had heard that same sound coming from the reeds a little further along. (She) went to investigate and found Belle hiding in the reeds," Glover said.
 
 A Flying Squad member, who asked not to be named, had been first on the scene and said she was terrified when she realised why people were trying to get her attention. "I got out the car and saw these cheetahs running into the bushes on the side of the road. I was afraid and ran back to the car and called the control room. The people were very scared," she said.
 
 Allan Perrins, the Cape of Good Hope's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) chief executive officer, said two inspectors were dispatched, but Spier personnel arrived before them.
 "The cheetahs were found on the side of the N2 near the R300 turn-off.
  "This means the animals had to traverse the Mfuleni informal settlement. They are potentially very, very dangerous. These animals do have the capacity to kill.
 "The SPCA believes wild animals should remain in the wild," he said.
 Glover said nothing like this had happened before.
 "The cubs are captive born and hand raised, used to people and at no stage posed any danger to the public," she said.

*****************************************************

THE SPCA is like our RSPCA and exists to safeguard predominantly 'domestic' animals.  I doubt that Mr. Perrins is an expert on Cheetahs and as for his statement that 'They are potentially dangerous, very, very dangerous' ....................... Well - this is, in my opinion, just sensational journalistic writing.  Seven month old Cheetah cubs would be about the size of Shetland Sheep Dogs and I'm sure they were 'very, very scared' and probably more scared of the humans than the humans were of them!!

One of my Capetonian friends sent a letter to the Cape Times as follows:

I have a problem with Mr Perrins (of the SPCA) statement that cheetahs are “very, very dangerous” and “have the capacity to kill”. We are all aware that animals are dangerous, including those pretty little Pitt Bulls that daily walk our public streets!
 
Why single out cheetahs, the most timid of all predators?  I will ignore the fact that the cheetahs referred to in the article are only cubs, have been hand raised, are constantly with people and have never been taught to hunt.  Cheetahs do not just attack a predator (or a human being) which is larger and taller than themselves.  When in a threatening situation they are a FLIGHT animal, not a FIGHT animal. Instinctively flight is always their first defence as any injury can easily result in their death.  A number of years ago I was told, while in the Kruger National Park, that the main cause of cheetah death was starvation.  This was due to other predators stealing their kill! Does this look like an apex predator, something to be scared of?  Historical records show that cheetahs have been held in captivity for around 5 000 years.
 
I can categorically state that DOGS are “very, very dangerous” and “have the capacity to kill”.   Years ago I was attacked by a neighbours dog.  It had me on the ground and was going for my throat.  I have the scars to prove it.  In Cape Town you have more chance of being mugged or hijacked than being attacked by a cheetah, particularly a 7 month old hand raised cub on the lose on the N2!
 
Mr Perrins also states that “The SPCA believes wild animals should remain in the wild”.  If we left all wild animals in the wild, how many would we still have in, say, one hundred years time?  Would there be any wild animals around for our grandchildren to see?  Will we even have a “wild” by then?
 
Lets get the blinkers off and inject a little realism into the whole business of nature conservation.  Without places like Cheetah Outreach in this world, cheetahs would soon become extinct.  This is not a throwaway line, it is a fact.   Cheetahs lived in  Africa, the Middle East and India.  There are now only about 100 left in Iran, probably none in North Africa and none in India.  That gene pool has vanished, they are EXTINCT!  The Southern African population is seriously endangered.  It would be interesting to hear Mr Perrins' explanation of how that correlates with SPCA's statement “wild animals should remain in the wild”.  
 
Unfortunately the human race has not done this planet any favours!  Man, to my mind, is the greatest predator and destroyer of them all.
 

*****************************************************************

 I was so upset at the inaccuracy of the story and knowing both Dawn and Beryl, I felt moved to add my tuppence worth and wrote the following letter to the Editor of the Cape Times.   I very much doubt that it will be printed!  And, of course there has not even been an acknowledgment of my Email.

Dear Sir,

Though a resident of the UK, I spend many months of the year in Capetown.  I was made aware of the 'Cheetah story' by a friend in the UK.

I have had the honour of working with the Cheetahs at Cheetah Outreach and also took part in a BBC 2 Series called 'Safari School' in which several of us were given Game Ranger training at Shamwari Game Reserve so I do know a fact or two about Cheetahs.

 I can do no better than endorse every word of the superb letter which my Capetonian friend, Kevin Adams, has written to you.

I am a Life Time Member of the Born Free Foundation and also of the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation.  We all believe that Wild Animals are best left  in their natural habitat but Man has been consistently 'stealing their country' and 'killing them for amusement or for their pelts and tusks'.

The Work of the De Wildt Foundation near Johannesburg and that of the Cheetah Reserve at Spier is to be praised and supported.  Cheetahs have never been known to attack Humans and as Mr. Adams states 'Cheetahs are FLIGHT not FIGHT animals'.  The work undertaken at Spier with regard to Education and Conservation  is to be praised and not criticised by an ill-informed officer of a Society which I imagine exists with regard to stopping cruelty to 'Domestic animals'.

JAN LEEMING (TV Presenter and Interviewer, Kent, ENGLAND)

Well, there you have it.  

Yours, very hot under the collar.  Jan

The Picture below is me with Shadow - a fully grown Cheetah from Spier.  Shadow was rejected by his mother at 3 weeks and was adopted and brought up by Annie Beckhelling who founded the Cheetah Reserve at Spier, just outside Capetown, and has done a remarkable job over the last ten years or so.

 

CHEETAHS on the N.2, Capetown -and sensationalist journalism

What do you think? Send your feedback to contact@jan-leeming.com.