Harry, her sister Hermione and brother Ron were brought to the Cheetah Conservation Fund in 2005 after losing their mother when they were about two months old. Named after the popular characters from the Harry Potter book series, Harry was a mistaken gender determination. It was thought she was a male when she first arrived, and she had a small scar on her face, hence the name Harry. But she didn’t seem to mind the mistake, and we would always say that Harry was short for Harriet, or something more feminine sounding. It also provided us with a good opportunity to educate guests in the differences between male and female cheetahs.
We find that captive cheetahs, much like their smaller domesticated cat counterparts are very fond of routine. They like things to stay the same every day. Harry especially loved her life to be in order. She liked her food brought to her at the same time every day, to exercise first thing in the morning, and to be left alone other than that. She was an extremely intelligent cheetah and sensed the second anything was amiss. She was extremely skeptical of anything new in the enclosure, or even if her food smelled a little bit off, she wouldn’t eat it. It made medicating her very difficult, as she could smell some of the medications we would try to hide in treats or in her food.
We normally start giving our older cheetahs a joint supplement, but Harry didn’t start getting it until she was much older, because she would find the tablet in the treat and spit it out every time. She would refuse to eat her piece of meat if we crushed the tablet into a powder and sprinkled it over. Doing annual vaccinations always had to be carefully planned out by the cheetah keeper team, because we would have to start training months in advance to get Harry comfortable with the catch cage that we use to safely contain them while they are injected. She knew that nothing good ever happened in the catch cage. With months of coaxing with food, and lots of praise from her keepers, she would eventually go in on the day we needed her to go in. But then we would have to start all over from square one in preparation for the next year’s vaccines.
We loved Harry’s stubborn personality, even if it made our days a bit challenging sometimes. About a year ago, we started to notice some strange behaviour from Harry. At feeding time, she normally would have run into the feeding camps at full speed and straight to her bowl. Suddenly, it seemed like she couldn’t figure out where the door was and was struggling to find her bowl. Her gait also became very wobbly and unsteady. She also became a lot calmer, and allowed her keepers to approach her, and even touch her with no hesitation. Nothing was obviously wrong with her eyes such as cataracts, but she was 14 years old, so old age-related issues were something we were expecting. We moved her and her sister from the main Centre to a smaller “retirement” enclosure, where they could be together, but a small enough space where Harry wouldn’t get lost and we could monitor her easily. With the assistance of our veterinary team, we started her on medication for her liver and kidneys and started giving her subcutaneous fluids every day – a procedure that would have been near impossible even a couple of years ago.
Unfortunately, her age finally caught up to her, and on April 30th, 2021, the decision was made to euthanize Harry so that she would not experience any unnecessary pain or suffering. She will be greatly missed by her sister Hermione, as well as her keepers. She was an amazing cheetah, and an amazing ambassador for wild cheetahs everywhere.