Hamerton Zoo s cheetah, Akea, became world-famous last week after The Hunts Post reported on his escape and encounter with a nine-year-old boy. This week, reporter NATALIE BOWYER went to find out if Akea is as tame as his keepers had claimed. I HAVE been

2711hd1108: ESCAPED: Akea back at Hamerton Zoo with his keeper, Katherine Adams.

Hamerton Zoo's cheetah, Akea, became world-famous last week after The Hunts Post reported on his escape and encounter with a nine-year-old boy. This week, reporter NATALIE BOWYER went to find out if Akea is as tame as his keepers had claimed.

I HAVE been asked to do some daunting tasks as a reporter, from aerobatics flying to police riot training, but going face-to-face with a cheetah is another level entirely.

And I was really unsure about how to prepare. I suppose leaving my jacket overnight in a kitchen that had been used to cook a roast beef dinner was probably not the best start.

But Monday was too cold to visit Hamerton Zoo, near Sawtry, without a jacket and as I entered the cheetah enclosure I crossed my fingers, hoping Akea had already eaten.

"They eat at night and they eat rabbits," said zoo keeper, Katherine Adams, who hand-reared the three-year-old cheetah from a cub.

"Akea lived at home with me in St Neots for 10 months. He took over my sofa and travelled to work with me in the boot of my car. He is used to being in contact with humans on a daily basis."

Akea's escape last Friday (October 24), after originally being reported in The Hunts Post, made headlines in the national newspapers, television news, radio and newspapers as far away as Australia.

The national media lapped it up.

The big cat had managed to flee from the zoo over a faulty electric fence. He made his way across a field to Rookery Farm where he tore apart nine-year-old Toby Taylor's bicycle seat and tyres.

Toby and his mother, Jules, hid inside the house until zoo staff came to collect the escaped animal.

The zoo apologised to the Taylor family and offered to pay the repair bill for Toby's bike. The faulty solar-powered electric fence panel around Akea's enclosure has now been replaced.

Andrew Swales, managing director of Hamerton Zoo, said: "When I heard Akea had escaped I was scared he would get shot or run over. We didn't think we would get him back."

He added: "He is completely tame and we knew he wouldn't pose any danger. His reaction to strangers would be the same as a pet dog - either a friendly greeting or a guarded retreat.

"He must have mistaken Toby's bicycle for one of his own toys."

With this in mind I approached Akea's cage and started stroking him through the holes in the wire. His coat was matted and thick and he purred loudly like a cat.

Feeling braver I asked if I could go inside the cage with the 6ft long cheetah. Katherine went in first and settled him and I followed shortly after. As soon as I got in the cage, Akea was not happy and started chewing Katherine's hand, trying to leave her hold on him to see who had intruded in his territory.

As Akea jumped up at Katherine and started chewing her hands and arms, she said: "He's a big softly and loves play fighting. Like a playful dog he doesn't bite, he just holds onto you with his mouth."

She kept hold of him and, I'm not afraid to admit, fled from the cage. I did not want him to start "play fighting" with me. In hindsight I should have stayed - and I believe Akea would have let me, but my nerves got the better of me.

Mr Swales said: "He's got all the weapons - the craws, teeth, strength and speed to do some damage but he doesn't, it's not in his nature.

"Cheetah's are nervous creatures and do not like confrontation. In the wild one baboon is strong enough to drive away a cheetah from a kill.

"To my knowledge there have not been any known cases of cheetah's attacking humans."

INFORMATION: You can find out more about Hamerton Zoo by visiting www.hamertonzoopark.com

*AN investigation has been launched following Akea's escape last week.

The cheetah was said to have got out of his enclosure through a faulty electric fence at Hamerton Zoo and made his way across a field to the nearby home of the Taylor family.

Officers at Huntingdonshire District Council have now launched its own investigation to find out how Akea escaped.

A council spokesman said: "The zoo reported the escape to us, in accordance with procedures. We are aware that a faulty electric fencing unit has been replaced. We are now investigating the incident.