People Can’t Stop Messing With Big Cats

  • Dwight Turner paid $150 to rub a black leopard's belly and instead it mauled his face.
  • The owner of the animal faces fines and jail time.

If you’ve ever had a close encounter with a goose, you know how unpredictable and violent wild animals can be. Despite Disney’s best efforts, no one will ever convince me that woodland creatures would rather humans didn’t exist, and they wouldn’t mind being the ones to do us in. You can watch YouTube videos of everything from raccoons to deer finally saying, “enough is enough” and going for the jugular. 

Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

In August, Dwight Turner of Florida paid a guy $150 to get mauled by a black leopard. That’s probably not what Turner thought he was paying for, but when you walk into a cage with a 200-pound predator, you kind of just roll the dice on what’s going to happen. 

Leopards Love Ambushes

Photo by Latrach Med Jamil on Unsplash

Myself, I try to avoid wild animals. I no more want to get bit by a goose than a mountain lion or bear. Other people? They seem ambivalent about the very real consequences of messing with Mother Nature. As seen in the Tiger King documentary, large swaths of middle America give a little shrug about how overcrowded private zoos treat their exotic animals. They’re happy to hand over a stack of bills to just anyone if it means petting an exotic cat. 

Turner thought he’d be rubbing the cat’s belly and taking some pictures, but as soon as he walked into the cage, the leopard went for his head. The same as any of us do when someone hands us a plate of food. Florida is a no-man’s-land of exotic animal ownership laws. It’s led to an abundance of private zoos and “animal sanctuaries” chock-full of wildlife that should be, you know, wild. 

Photo by Maurits Bausenhart on Unsplash

Michael Poggi, the black leopard’s owner, is licensed as an exotic animal dealer and wasn’t breaking any laws by owning the animal. However, Florida prohibits close-contact encounters between people and any cat over 12 weeks and 25 pounds. To prevent stuff like this from happening, probably. Even a 25-pound cat strikes me as dangerous, having lived with an 8-pound house cat for ten years. Those hunter instincts are still razor-sharp after 4,000 years of domestication. 

Big Cats Aren’t Safe

Photo by Martin Brechtl on Unsplash

Turner’s wife had to hold his scalp in place on the way to the hospital after his close encounter. National Geographic reported that he’s had two surgeries and 22 staples and may still lose one of his ears. He’s suing Poggi, who is already facing fines and jail time for allowing the encounter to happen. 

“There’s no scenario in which entering a space with a big cat is going to be 100 percent safe, even if it’s been hand raised,” said conservationist biologist and Nat Geo Explorer Imogene Cancellare, “These are animals whose brains are literally designed to be ambush predators.”