Cheetahs attack officer on a South African air base

Associated Press

Johannesburg — Two cheetahs used for animal control on a South African air base attacked an air force officer, slightly injuring her.

The cheetahs, reared by humans and housed on the base to keep other animals off the runway, are part of a natural security program. Exploring their new environment, the two males on Tuesday entered a hangar on the Makhado Air Force Base, where a few officers were gathered.

The animals were shooed away, but as they stalked off, a warrant officer tried to take their picture. They began to growl. As the warrant officer turned to flee, they pounced. The woman was treated for minor injuries on her shoulders and the back of her head.

The cheetahs, who were deployed two weeks ago, will keep their home on the base, and the air force will do more to educate the officers who share the base with the world’s fastest land animals, spokeswoman Brig. Gen. Marthie Visser said on Thursday.

The base in northern South Africa is surrounded by nature reserves, and animals sometimes slip onto the base, Visser said.

In a program that began in the 1990s, the cheetahs are selected from a nearby endangered species breeding program to hunt animals like warthogs, hares and birds that pose hazards to flight safety. The spotted, slender cats freely roam most of the base.

After they complete their tour of duty of two years, they are returned to breeding programs.

This is not the first time animals have been used in important operations. In Mozambique, rats were used to sniff out undetonated land mines left over from a civil war.

Earlier this year, the U.S. military funded a program in South Africa that studied elephants’ exceptional sense of smell, hoping to adapt it to electronic sensors.