9-1-1 Call Released in Cheetah Attack

Volunteers came to aid of victim


 
 

Chrystian Tejedor | | Tuesday, April 1, 2008


WELLINGTON, Fla. -- When two cheetahs attacked the owner of Wellington's Panther Ridge Conservation Center, someone outside the animals' cage frantically called 911.

"The woman who owns it went into the cage with the jaguar and they're attacking her," the unidentified female caller told Sheriff's Office dispatchers. "There's no one here to get them out. Please hurry."

The recording, released on Tuesday along with a preliminary report from Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, describe the efforts of Panther Ridge volunteers who tried to free Judy Berens during Saturday's attack.

The animals were later identified as cheetahs, named Matt and Charlie. Berens, 58, brought them from a private facility in South Africa where they were born and raised around people.

Although investigators continue to look at the attack, according to a Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman, the report shows that Berens had installed a proper barrier and that the cheetahs' enclosure was properly locked so that the animals did not endanger the guests.

Fish and Wildlife officers did not plan to take action against Berens. They noted in the report that she has 15 years of experience in dealing with large cats but should rethink going into the animal cages alone.

On Saturday, Berens walked into the cage with two male cheetahs for a refuge fundraiser when one of the animals likely was distracted by a child bouncing a ball outside the cage, according to the Fish and Wildlife, which is investigating the attack.

One big cat moved toward the ball and knocked Berens to the ground. Both cats then bit and clawed her.

According to the Fish and Wildlife report, a Panther Ridge volunteer grabbed a water hose and entered the enclosure where Berens was being attacked. One cheetah backed off but the other held a firm bite on her leg until the volunteer sprayed water in its face and tried to pry its jaws apart.

Eventually, the animal released Berens and the volunteer walked her outside.

By that time, the 911 caller was still giving authorities directions to Panther Ridge, which is nestled among mostly equestrian estates in an area of Wellington south and west of Lake Worth Road and Southshore Boulevard.

"She's out of the cage, but we need the ambulance," the caller told dispatchers and later, added in a calmer voice: "They got her out of the cage but she is quite bloody. She is in the house. She's walking."

Berens, who could not be reached for comment on Tuesday despite attempts by phone, said earlier that reports of the attack were exaggerated.

"I got bit a couple of times. It's just not a big deal. It's something you can expect if you're going to be dealing with these animals," Berens said from her hospital room on Sunday. "It's been blown way out of proportion."

The Fish and Wildlife report shows that Berens was bitten on her extremities, back and neck.

Staff Writer Stephanie Horvath contributed to this report.

Chrystian Tejedor can be reached at ctejedor@sun-sentinel.com or 561-243-6631.

Staff Writer Staff Writer Stephanie Horvath contributed to this report.




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