Honey, star of Big Cat Diary, killed by vet's blunder


Last updated at 23:54 02 February 2008

One of the animal stars of the BBC's Big Cat Diary has been killed after a tragic blunder.

Honey, a seven-year-old cheetah, died last February after a vet shot her in the wrong place with a tranquilising dart.

Yet nearly a year later, fans of the popular wildlife show, set in the Masai Mara game reserve in Kenya, have not been told of her death.

In the latest series, broadcast last month on BBC1, Honey was seen alive and well with her three five-month-old cubs. And in the final episode, screened on January 4, the presenter Jonathan Scott said he couldn't wait to see what the future held for the cheetah and her family.

In fact, Honey was long dead – something the BBC knew when it broadcast the series.

The killing happened on February 17 after one of her cubs was injured

and a vet from the Kenya Wildlife Service was called in to treat him.

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In order to get close to the cub, the vet said he had to sedate Honey. But when he tranquilised her, the dart did not go into the muscle but hit her in the stomach near her kidneys.

Oblivious to his mistake, the vet went on to treat Honey's cub while she was left out in the scorching afternoon sun.

According to one witness, Joseph Kimojono, an assistant warden with the Mara Conservancy, the vet then treated Honey for a wound to her leg and gave her an injection to bring her round. Shortly after this she became agitated and distressed.

Mr Kimojono said: "She was making strange sounds. It looked like she hadn't recovered smoothly.

"I watched her for about 15 minutes and then asked the vet why she looked so agitated. He told me not to worry and that Honey was behaving normally.

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"We exchanged phone numbers and then he left. I stayed with Honey for another 20 minutes and she appeared to improve.

"She went and lay down next to a small water hole and, once her cubs had joined her, I left for my lunch, thinking she was going to be all right.

"When I came back 30 minutes later I could immediately see that something was wrong. Honey was lying in the same spot with her cubs but not in a natural position.

"As I walked towards her I could see that she was no longer breathing."

After calling the KWS vets back

in, Mr Kimojono said the next time he saw Honey, her stomach had been cut open and some of her organs removed as part of a post-mortem examination.

He said he was told she would be removed and then skinned.

Cheetahs are listed among the world's most endangered species. The BBC was not filming in Kenya at the time of the incident.

The Corporation has a strict policy of non-intervention with the cats. In the last series, Scott told viewers: "Nature has its own way of dealing with things and, however painful it may be to watch it, to observe it and to describe it, you can't play God."

Big Cat Diary was first broadcast on BBC1 in 1996. The show, which follows families of leopards, cheetahs and lions, has been likened to a wildlife soap opera and regularly attracts more than 3.5million viewers. It is presented by Scott, Simon King and Saba Douglas-Hamilton.

Honey first appeared in the series in 2002. As a young mother raising three cubs, she quickly became one of the show's most popular characters.

In 2005 viewers fell in love with

Honey's six-week-old son Toto, the youngest cheetah cub ever filmed

on the show, as he battled close encounters with baboons, lions and other predators.

In the most recent series Honey was shown with four five-month-old cubs. She lost one in a lion attack

and was last seen heading towards the border with Tanzania in an

effort to keep her three other male cubs safe.

They are now being watched by local game wardens who have helped to provide food for them where


The Mara Conservancy, a charity that manages a section of the Mara on behalf of its Masai inhabitants, has said Honey died as the result of a "botched darting exercise".

Chief executive Brian Heath says the tragedy should never have

happened because Honey did not need need to be sedated.

He said: "Sometimes when young are injured you are obliged to dart the mother. But not with cheetahs. The mother will move off about

100 metres and lie down. If we had been consulted that's what we would have recommended."

Last night a spokesman for the BBC denied it had misled viewers. He said: "The BBC Big Cat Production team filmed Big Cat Diary during September 2006. There were no members of the Big Cat Diary

team on location in Masai Mara

during February 2007, therefore we cannot comment on the specifics of the incident.

"The series was delivered to the channel ready to be broadcast on January 30, 2007 – before Honey died. It is unusual for any re-editing to be made if a wild animal dies after filming is completed.

"We plan to inform the Big Cat fanbase of the situation via the Big Cat internet newsletter when clearer details of the incident have emerged."

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