Nico came to the Cheetah Conservation Fund with his brother Koya when they were a couple months old after losing their mother to human wildlife conflict. Due to calcium deficiencies in their diet before coming to CCF, they both came in with bone deformities and stunted growth. Luckily, they were young enough that once they were put on the proper diet with correct amounts of minerals and vitamins, they made a full recovery and grew into two beautiful males.
Though they hadn’t spent much time around people and were a little bit wild, they quickly picked up the routine of life at CCF, and got to know and trust their keepers. Nico was normally the quieter of the two brothers and would follow his brother wherever he went. If Koya was somewhere or showing interest in something, Nico was typically right behind him. At feeding time, sometimes we would separate them into camps directly beside each other. But we discovered very quickly that we couldn’t leave them separated for long. As soon as they were done eating, they would immediately start calling for each other, even though the camps were side by side and they could see each other through the fence. As long as he had his brother beside him, Nico was a very relaxed, calm cat, and was very easy to work with most of the time.
One of their favourite activities to do was the cheetah run, where they chase a piece of cloth attached to a mechanical lure system. Both Nico and his brother were always eager to run and loved showing off their speed for guests. When the cheetahs catch the rag, the keepers reward by feeding treats from a long wooden spoon. But when Nico and Koya were first learning how to run and the reward system, they made it a challenge for the keepers. If one brother caught the rag, the other would be right beside you immediately also looking for treats, even though they had not done anything! Nico especially was very stubborn and needed to be told multiple times that unless he runs and catches the rag, he doesn’t get any treats! Eventually he learned and from then on was an amazing runner. Nico was also a teacher and leader when it came time for young male named Katiti to learn how the lure course worked. Katiti was very nervous when he first arrived at CCF and afraid to be too close to people. He didn’t quite understand why the rag was moving, and why he needed to catch it. But after observing and running with Nico a couple of times, he caught on, and is now also an amazing runner, and great with the spoon and reward system.
Every single day, the cheetah keepers do a visual health check on every individual cheetah. We make sure there are no physical problems like swelling or wounds. We also check their behaviour – are they acting like the normally do, are they eager for food, or eager to do the cheetah run. These checks allow us to pick up on any health problems right away and treat them with the assistance of our veterinary staff. Unfortunately, even with these health checks, sometimes unexpected things can occur.
In March of 2021, we found Nico deceased in his enclosure. A necropsy revealed nothing out of the ordinary with his organs or the rest of his body. There are multiple species of highly venomous snakes here in Namibia, and we think that perhaps he was bitten by one of these snakes. The venom can take effect extremely quickly and can be lethal if the symptoms are not detected. It was a great loss for the cheetah team, as Nico was only four years old. He was extremely young by captive cheetah standards as they live on average to be between 13 and 16 years old. He will be greatly missed by not only his brother Koya, but also the many people whose lives he touched in his short time at the Cheetah Conservation Fund.