Dan Smith: Sherrard’s love animals took interesting turn in Africa

Sep. 26, 2013 @ 10:16 AM

There is an interesting lady who lives in Wears Valley who loves animals and nature more than most of us.

She is Kathy Sherrard, a retired elementary and art teacher.

Kathy was born in California, and attended and graduated from UCLA. She lived in San Francisco before moving to Gainesville, Fla., where her husband was hired in the medical profession.

They have three children and seven grandchildren. Kathy taught in Gainesville for 19 years before retiring and moving to Franklin, N.C.

She has since moved to Wears Valley, Tenn., and has been involved with the Appalachian Bear Rescue Center in Townsend. She serves on the board and helps to get bears back into the wild with as little human contact as possible. Her love for wildlife is her passion, and it was just recently that I ran into her again in Townsend for the Great Smoky Mountain Association Annual Membership meeting.

Kathy gave a talk and slide show, as one of the programs of the event, and taught us all more than we had ever known about black bears. The audience had many questions after the program was over, and not enough time to get them all answered on this very popular subject. I learned so many things about bears that I did not know before.

As exciting as working with bears is, Kathy had another adventure back in July of 2011.

She had always wanted to experience Africa, but did not have enough money, so she volunteered to go work with an organization called “Earthwatch Institute.” She was now able to cross this off her bucket list. Her job was to help monitor black rhinos, in order to help save them from extinction.

The 12 people on her project while in Africa stayed in huts called rondavels, which were primitive, but effective. They are just basic shelter. In her group were four people, with one being an armed guard. On one particular day, the group was walking through the plains area, measuring plants, and counting herds. She had been there for about one week at this point.

At about 11 a.m. that morning, one of the group had shouted, “Run, get out of here.”

The group started to do just that as they turned to flee. Kathy had only been able to take two steps before she went down with a heavy weight on her back as she was pinned to the ground. She was confused at this point as the guide was hitting a lioness with the butt of his rifle and kicking at the great cat.

He eventually got the lion to leave and return to her cub in the bush.

The group picked Kathy up and led her to the vehicle to be rushed off to the nearby town of Nanyuki. Kathy did not faint, but knew she was hurt as she felt her bottom area become moist with blood as it soaked her thoroughly.

After making it to the ER, the doctor there said she would have to have surgery in two hours. It took 25 stitches in her buttocks to close the deep wound which went down so deep that she had to have internal stitches also. She also had a wound to her front pelvic area that had to be closed where the lion had gripped her with its front claws.

Kathy spent a week in the hospital recuperating and making sure that she didn’t develop an infection. Her entire hospital bill was taken care of by Earthwatch.

In U.S. dollars it amounted to $200,000. She told me that they took good care of her and that she couldn’t have been in better care anywhere in the world. Apparently they had experience with this sort of thing before.

Earthwatch upgraded her flight home, and she stopped in Amsterdam on a layover and even did some shopping at the markets there. From there she flew into Atlanta and her great adventure was over. It didn’t go the way she thought it would.

On a side note, her doctor in Kenya was Dr. Butts. I kid you not. She checked the name on the paperwork afterward, and it was really true.

I can now add to my list of strange, or unusual people events that I have been made aware of; a lion attack survivor. Kathy is a remarkable person and her knowledge of the animal world is something that she loves to share with all who will listen.

I count myself lucky to have met her.