Nice kitty, good kitty

Cheetah on the prowl

On our way to Etosha National Park in Namibia we made an overnight stop at a cheetah rescue farm. The cheetah refuge was set up in an effort to encourage farmers to trap and remove cheetahs from their land rather than shooting them on sight. Cheetahs are notorious for killing livestock, which of course is the livelihood of so many of the local farmers, so the dilemma is apparent; unfortunately, since the farmers have guns and the cheetahs don’t, it’s also equally apparent who is losing the battle. The cheetah refuge is run by three brothers who are trying to encourage farmers to use live traps, whereupon the cheetahs are transported to the farm and are introduced to a new home. The farm itself has over 7000 hectares of land dedicated as cheetah habitat, and they live in a semi-wild fashion where they are fed once daily by the brothers and otherwise hunt for any game that is unfortunate enough to find itself wandering into their territory. There are currently about 20 cheetahs on the farm, along with three “tame” ones that were found very young and brought up with close contact to humans. These three live in and around the house with the brothers and their dogs, and we got to visit them right up close. But I’m getting ahead of myself – first I have to write about our first giraffe experience!

Anything good to eat in there?

When we first pulled up at the cheetah farm, before we’d even had a chance to look for any cats, we spotted a giraffe nibbling quietly at one of the trees in the yard. Excitedly we grabbed our cameras and hoped for the giraffe to come a little closer. And did he ever! Almost as soon as we stopped the truck, he lifted his head from his meal and looked our way. After only a moment’s consideration, he started making his way right for us. This was not a shy giraffe. He came right up to the truck, and as people started to nervously jump backwards, he stuck his head right through the open side! He calmly looked around, and we started to tentatively reach out our hands to touch him on the head and neck. He made at least three laps around the truck, always sticking his head in to say hello, and gazing calmly at us as we petted him and even started giving him hugs, with arms wrapped around his neck! It was incredible. He loved us, and we loved him even more. According to the brothers, he wasn’t kept by them, but would show up every few days and then disappear again for long stretches of time. He just happened to be there for us, like a welcoming party. Aside from the seals, it was our first encounter with a truly “African” animal, and what a way to start off!

That's a big kitty

After we said goodbye to the giraffe and got our camp set up, it was time to visit the three tame cheetahs at the house. I was so excited; cheetahs are one animal I’ve loved since childhood, and I was about to get as close to them as I ever would. We prepped ourselves first, according to the brothers’ guidance: no sunglasses (the reflections anger the cats), bags and shoes on tight, cameras at the ready. They opened the gate and let us in, and just like that, we where standing amongst real live cheetahs. They came up to us and sniffed and licked us like curious house cats, only much bigger and with slightly more fearsome teeth and claws. They let us pet them, but not too much – one or two people got nipped at, but without casualty. One of them started wrestling with one of the dogs, and without any effort, calmly pinned him under one of his long yellow paws. The dog waited patiently until the cheetah decided it had made its point, and let him up.

Dogs and cats do get along

Every once in a while, the cheetahs would do something small that would remind us we were watching truly wild animals. When they loped around, the speed and grace was astounding, and it made the full-out run of the dogs look tired and slow. The youngest cheetah did a bit of tree climbing for us, and when he jumped down we all took a quick step backwards, in awe of the power and grace he showed in doing it. Sometimes one of the dogs would get a little yappy or excited and annoy the cats, and they would reach out and smack the dog, eliciting a yelp and a yielding look of submission. No doubts about who was in charge around there.

Dinner is served

After spending some time with the three tame cheetahs, it was time to go out and watch the more wild ones get fed. We all piled into the back of a pickup truck and drove out into the huge enclosures where they live. Once we got through the gates, we couldn’t even tell that we were in a fenced area any more. All we could see were tall, golden grasses and low trees, stretching off towards the setting sun. As we approached the middle of an open expanse, the cheetahs started to appear – first one came slinking out into the open, then two more, then suddenly there were cheetah heads popping up seemingly all around us. There were seven cats in total, and they paced eagerly around us as our guides got out of the truck and advised us (wisely, I think) to stay in the back. We could tell that the cheetahs were hungry. After letting them size us up for a few minutes, one of the brothers reached into a plastic garbage bin and pulled out a huge hunk of donkey meat. He lobbed it through the air towards the cheetahs, and as it started to fall three or four of the cheetahs leaped up on their hind legs to grab for it. There was a brief scuffle as each cat tried to get a hold on the meat, and when one finally did, he took off at high speed into the distance. The other cheetahs only gave chase briefly, as they must have known that there was more meat coming. They repeated this show until each cheetah was happily off in the grass somewhere devouring their dinner. Next we drove to an enclosure where there was a large group of younger cheetahs and fed them as well. We stayed behind the fence for this feeding, perhaps because the younger cats were less predictable.

Grrrrrr

There was one last surprise in store for us. We drove to a new enclosure, and when we arrived there was a solitary cheetah pacing across the fence from us. The brothers tossed a huge chunk of donkey to her, and as she ran off with her prize to feed in peace, we crept along the fence about thirty yards further and discovered the reason that she was in an enclosure by herself. Lying in the shade of a bush were four tiny baby cheetahs, less than two weeks old. They couldn’t walk properly on their own yet, but they tumbled and tripped over each other as they watched us get closer. One of them decided to take it on himself to defend the group, and he took up a position in front and hissed at us. It wasn’t exactly intimidating – quite the opposite actually. They were possibly the cutest things I’ve ever seen in my life, and I don’t even feel less manly saying that. They were so cute that Meg and I walked back in the morning to see them again, but on our own this time. When we got there they were with their mom, and they didn’t seem to mind the two of us being there. We watched as the mom licked and fed them, and as they tried out their legs by stumbling over and around her. It was pretty cool to see.

Mom and her litter

We left the cheetah park and were lucky enough to see our friendly giraffe on the way out. After sticking his head in the truck a couple more times he bade us farewell, and we were on the road again. Next stop: Etosha National Park.

Comments

    I want a baby cheetah!

    I’ll say it again…COOOOL!

  1. Dallas Husar

  2. I was only kidding about petting the wildlife, don’t you know? :)

    What an amazing wildlife excursion. Your trip keeps getting better and better, if that’s at all possible. Keep safe and have fun. xox

    Are there any of these guys on the West Coast Trail?
    Matt, Diana, Erik, and Melissa

    WOW Guys Amazing! And Meghan! Look at that tan – nice colour! :) I will think of something more intelligent to say another day. Miss you and think of you often.

  3. Courtney

  4. Wow…i promised i would stalk you and i have and your trip has been amazing, but now i am truly jealous. Cheetahs have been one of my favorite animals since i was a kid tooo, and you got to play with them… wow!

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