Championing Cheetahs in South Africa
Cheetahs—such lean and dignified, regal-looking, creatures.
The logo at Cheetah Outreach is: See it. Sense it. Save it.
You can still see a few cheetahs in the wild in southern Africa (and a small part of Iran) but the numbers are severely reduced (from an estimated 100,000 at the beginning of the 20th century, to about 6,600 today) and the threat of extinction hangs heavy.
So, on our last visit to the Cape in South Africa we were very happy to visit a new (to us) place called Cheetah Outreach. It’s in Paardevlei, on the south side of Somerset West (about 40 minutes from Cape Town airport), and is well worth a visit. Plan to spend a couple of hours, more if you’d like to do any of the animal encounters or if you stop to chat to any of the animal keepers, which you more than likely will do.
Entrance is R5 per person (less than US$0.50), regardless of age. You pay extra for the various animal encounters.
The animals are in big grassy enclosures arranged in a rough oval around a central area, and in one of them there’s a viewing stand to watch the herding/guarding dogs. In the center grassy strip is a small mobile tea/coffee stand, where we had coffee and watched some visitors going into an enclosure nearby with a keeper and being entertained by the antics of the animal.
This is not a large place but seemed well organized and they are doing a great thing.
The focus is on the cheetahs but they have other animals too—meerkats, bat-eared foxes, caracals, serval, the special Anatolian Shepherd herding dogs, and jackals. There are paid staff, but they also have local volunteers and volunteers from around the world—we had one girl from Australia explaining things to us. The keepers are knowledgeable and tell lots of information about “their” animal, so it feels quite personal. We felt very privileged to see these animals up close and to find out their histories.
Cheetah Outreach was founded by Annie Beckhellig in January 1997 on a hectare of land (roughly 2.5 acres) provided by Spier Wine Estates. In the first year, the program reached more than 50,000 people, by traveling to educational facilities and other places with Shadow, a young male cheetah. It has successfully expanded and evolved since then.
The mission of Cheetah Outreach is “to promote the survival of the free ranging Southern African cheetah through environmental education and delivering in-situ conservation initiatives.”
Why is this necessary?
The cheetah is threatened with extinction for many reasons: loss of habitat and decrease in prey; presence of other large predators in protected areas, leading to competition for survival; conflict with livestock and game farmers; fragmentation of population, leading to inbreeding and number depletion; lack of self-sustaining captive population; public lack of knowledge.
This Cheetah Outreach is trying to address all of the above factors. School outreach and teacher training workshops are a major part of this, as are funding and co-ordinating a South African Cheetah Anatolian Shepherd Guard Dog project. These dogs are trained to guard livestock from cheetahs and other predators. Initially the dogs worked with sheep and goats, but recently the program has been extended to cattle and even on African game (mostly nyala and springbok) farms. The project helps with buying, breeding, veterinary support, and training of these working dogs, which will help in non-lethal predator control.
Another extremely important part of their program is using the cheetahs themselves as Ambassadors. Cheetah Outreach has hand-reared captive-born cheetah that are used for this. These lovely creatures can give people the opportunity to see and meet these cats up close, and to learn to care about them and their future. Not all cats are suitable for release back into the wild, but they do make great ambassadors! With the Ann Van Dyck Cheetah and Wildlife Centre, they train cheetah cubs as ambassadors for educational programs around the world. And in fact, some of the other animals are ambassadors too: the servals and meerkats, for example. For us, they could all be ambassadors!
On the way out you pass through a pretty good shop—cash only, but there is a handy ATM right there!
Fun Facts About Cheetahs
—the partnership between cheetah and man is ancient, dating from Cleopatra’s time. Ancient Egyptians believed that a cheetah would carry the pharaoh’s soul to the afterworld
—the cheetah is the oldest big cat on earth at 3.5-4 million years.
—the oldest fossil remains have been found in Wyoming, Texas and Nevada in USA
—the cheetah is the world’s fastest land animal. Its top speed is 110/120 km/h (68/75 m/h) and it can accelerate from 0-80km/h (50m/h) in 3 seconds (that equals the Formula 1 Ferrari in 1999).
–the cheetah’s stride is 7-8 meters (23-24 feet)
—an adult cheetah has over 2000 spots
—cheetahs are Africa’s most threatened great cat
Find out lots more about cheetahs and the Cheetah Outreach on their excellent website. Learn about the animals and see many photos.