Violet D’Mello, 60, was attacked in an enclosure in a game reserve where visitors are taken by a guide to stroke a pair of “tame” big cats for £4.50. She played dead as one mauled her head, legs and stomach while the other tore at her face in the horrifying three-minute ordeal. Doctors say she was lucky to escape alive.
Violet’s husband Archie, a former engineer with British International Helicopters based at Sumburgh, had splashed out on the month-long tour of South Africa for Violet’s 60th birthday.
The 64-year-old was taking photos when the cheetahs pounced, not immediately realising what was happening. Eventually a receptionist got a stick, which the wildlife guide used to chase off the cats at the Kragga Kamma Game Reserve near Port Elizabeth.
The attack took place on 28th April while Violet, who once worked in the canteen at Sandwick Junior High School and who now lives with Archie in Aberdeen, was in a tourist petting pen with the cheetah brothers Mark and Monty. She posed for a photo with the cheetahs, but things changed suddenly when one of them starting biting the leg of a eight-year-old girl who was also in the enclosure. As Violet went to comfort the girl’s brother, the cheetahs turned on her.
She said: “I never imagined they would attack me because I was an adult. But the next thing I knew I was on the floor and the cheetah was right on top of me. It started scratching me really badly and then I could feel the other one come up too and one of them got my neck in its mouth.
“I was just screaming and trying to get my hands up around my neck to protect myself, but I was being bitten all over my legs and down my side near my kidneys.
“People all around were screaming, and I had no idea how I would escape. Something inside me said: ‘Don’t move. Don’t react at all. Just play dead’.
“Eventually someone came and chased them off me and my husband picked me up off the floor.”
Violet was left with heavy bleeding from cuts to her legs, head and stomach. Archie said: “She was in a terrible state and bleeding badly, particularly from the wound on her head.”
Fortunately there was a former nurse at the game reserve who patched Violet up before she went to hospital. There she had dozens of stitches and bandages for her cuts and was given painkillers and antibiotics.
Violet said: “The doctor at the hospital said cheetahs usually aim for the stomach area and disembowel their victims, so I am lucky to be alive.” She was also fortunate not to lose an eye – one of the cheetah’s paws tore around the eye and one centimetre to the side would have been disastrous.
The D’Mellos, who have two children Laurence and Ria, were well-known members of the Sandwick community in the 1980s and 1990s. Besides working in the school canteen, Violet worked at the Central Shop and at Viewforth. She also ran a popular Indian cookery night class.
The Kragga Krama game park, 460 miles east of Cape Town, is a private reserve that offers tourists the chance to see wildlife close up. It is home to animal species rhino, giraffe, zebra and buffalo, as well as cheetahs.
The four-year old cheetahs who attacked Violet had been raised by the park manager Mike Cantor. He told local reporters that the cheetahs are not aggressive animals but they may have been aggravated by the park being busy that day. It has since emerged that the cheetahs have targeted visitors before, but nothing that resulted in the serious injuries sustained by Violet. The cheetah petting area has now been closed while this latest incident is investigated.