When I volunteered for a few weeks at the Windhoek SPCA, I spent a memorable time with the domestic cats. The moment I sat in the pen with those cats, they hopped onto my lap and happily moved their faces against my garments. When I began my internship at CCF, I anticipated that the cheetahs’ behavior would be the exact opposite. I assumed cheetahs would be ruthless wild animals that would look out for every opportunity to attack a human being.
On my first day as an intern at CCF’s veterinary clinic, I monitored the vitals of a sedated cheetah. We were changing the bandage that was on its hindlimb. This was my first observation of a work-up on a wild carnivore and it was a very new experience for me. I stayed focused on monitoring the palpebral reflex at an interval of exactly 3 minutes, but my nervousness at being so close to this predator could not be hidden. Apparently my face could still not hide the state of consternation that I was in.
The response of a cheetah named Daniel, to my presence outside its pen (seen in the featured photo) has proved my assumptions of cheetah behaviour to be wrong. When I approached Daniel’s pen with a CCF staff member upon completion of morning tasks at the horse stables. I assumed that he would growl at me, instead, he walked towards me and released a high pitched yet soft sound. Daniel sat down and slowly moved his face against the fencing just like the domestic cats at the SPCA would do. It was then that I got a glimpse of the sentimentality of this big cat. In my newly acquired understanding, a cheetah is big in size but it is far from being the monster that it has been painted to be in certain groups within society.
According to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) terrestrial code, animals under human control should experience freedom from malnutrition, fear, physical discomfort, diseases and freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour. Cheetahs like Daniel are still wild animals who help maintain the balance of food chains in the ecosystems, making him deserving of protection against unjustified wildlife killing and diseases. I am happy to be a part of CCF’s work to provide care for the resident orphaned cheetahs. CCF’s research and education programmes are helping to ‘save a cheetah’ and keep them in the wild.