Your Cheetah-ing Heart

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a news story about someone's fatal foolishness is just a news story about someone bucking for a Darwin Award. Sometimes, however, there is more meaning that can be read into the story. And this is one of those stories:

Animal lover mauled to death after entering cheetah cage at Belgian zoo
BRUSSELS, Belgium: An animal lover was mauled to death by cheetahs at a zoo in northern Belgium, authorities and zoo officials said Monday.

It was unclear why Karen Aerts, 37, entered the cheetah cage late Sunday, Olmense Zoo spokesman Jan Libot said. She was found dead in the cage, Libot told VTM television.

Aerts, from the city of Antwerp, was a regular visitor to the zoo, which is 90 kilometers (55 miles) northeast of Brussels.

One of the cats that killed her was named Bongo. Aerts had adopted Bongo under a special program, paying for food for the cat, Libot said.

"Karen loved animals. Unfortunately the cheetahs betrayed her trust," he said.

Police said they were investigating why Aerts entered the cage, but ruled out any foul play.

They believe she hid somewhere in the park after it closed and managed to find the keys to the cheetah cage.

Animal rights group GAIA called for the immediate closure of the zoo, saying it was unsafe for both visitors and for the cats it is home to.

Rudy Demotte, Belgian minister responsible for animal welfare, has sent a team of inspectors to investigate.

This story offers so much on which to comment.

First, it's a pretty good allegory for those people who don't understand that there really is danger in the world. Not all wild animals are cuddly Disney critters; not all people are your friends, either. There are a lot of people in Europe who lack this understanding.

Second, what's with the goofy line about "unfortunately the cheetahs betrayed her trust"? Cheetahs are wild animals! They are not just oversized domesticated cats on steroids! One or two million years ago, our hominid ancestors roamed the same African savannah as the cheetahs. And some of those hominid ancestors who encountered cheetahs became the cheetahs' lunch. Just because you adopt a wild animal at the zoo and buy its food doesn't mean that you are suddenly its best friend. Domesticated animals like cats and dogs may show some gratitude to those who feed them. Wild animals do not.

Finally, I couldn't let the animal rights group GAIA pass without comment: "How trite! GAIA? You've got to be kidding me!"

So now the zoo is going to get a visit from the Gaian Inquisition. ("Nobody expects the Gaian Inquisition!") The animal rights fundamentalists don't believe that animals should be kept in zoos. Of course, with their natural habitat vanishing due to mushrooming human populations in Africa, it may not be too long until the only place you see animals like cheetahs is in zoos. I would suspect that GAIA's solution would be fewer people in Africa. I wonder what their stance is on American money being sent to Africa to fight AIDS? It's keeping people alive longer and contributing to habitat loss, after all. I'd like to tell the GAIA folks that and then watch their heads spin and explode like the Fembots in the Austin Powers movie.