Family Chased by Cheetahs Highlights Dangers of Wildlife Parks

A family, including a young child, narrowly escaped injury at a Dutch safari park.

Family Chased by Cheetahs Highlights Dangers of Wildlife Parks

A family, including a young child, narrowly escaped injury at a Dutch safari park.

A family with a small child had to run for their lives when two cheetahs chased them back to their car in Holland’s Safari Park Beekse Bergen. Luckily, the cheetahs were not hungry but simply protecting their territory, safari park manager Niels de Wildt told a Dutch radio station.

The video clip shows the family of five, including a very young child, standing on top of a grass bank a good 30 yards from their car in the middle of the drive-through safari park—which features a number of free-roaming cheetahs. The family had just driven past a group of cheetahs resting in the shade when they got out of their car and, turning their backs on the big cats, wandered up onto a field to look at something else. The cheetahs quickly spot them and race over and, snarling aggressively, chase the panicked family back to their car.

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At Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania, a car drives through a herd of African elephants. Experts advice experienced guides lead tourists through safaris instead of letting visitors drive their own vehicles through.

“As a parent when I saw that young child in the video…I was afraid of what was going to happen next,” said Luke Dollar, a conservation biologist and National Geographic explorer who is also a professor at Catawba College. People forget that big cats are top predators and to them we are prey, Dollar said.

Fortunately, no one was injured. The outcome might have been very different had it been another of the big cats. Cheetahs are not an aggressive big cat species like a lion, leopard, or tiger, said Laurie Marker, founder and executive director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF). “They are curious and will investigate unusual things happening in their habitat,” Marker said.

Marker said the family was lucky no injuries resulted from their behavior. “Getting a closer look is never worth putting yourself or small children at risk,” she said.

Two years ago a woman who got out of her car in China’s Badaling Wildlife Park near Beijing wasn’t trying to get a closer look when a tiger attacked her. The woman was badly mauled while her mother, who tried to help her, was killed by another tiger.

Like all safari parks, the Dutch park has signs in several languages telling visitors they are forbidden to leave their vehicles. And yet people ignore the warnings, and every year people are injured or killed in wildlife parks, often in hopes of getting a better photograph or selfies. In 2015, an American tourist was killed by a lion in South Africa while taking pictures through an open window in the safari jeep while in Lion and Safari Park near Johannesburg. The park tells visitors to keep windows rolled up at all times.

Some wildlife attractions even allow or fail to prevent people from feeding dangerous animals, such as bears, through open car windows as this 2017 video shows from the Badaling Wildlife Park in Beijing. Fortunately, no one was injured that day.

“I have mixed feelings about safari or wildlife parks,” said Dollar. Often it is the only way for people to personally experience big cats and other wild animals, but these animals should not be taken from the wild, he said.

People should always give wildlife the respect they deserve, Dollar said. The family visiting Safari Park Beekse Bergen were lucky to escape with a scare, he added.