|Why do we do cheetah encounters?
The primary goals of Cheetah Outreach are to raise awareness about the plight of the cheetah and to raise funds to conserve them in the wild. Our ambassador cats help us to do this by allowing people to meet and touch them. For any endangered species, ambassadors are important for raising public awareness. Being close to a cheetah, stroking its fur and listening to it purr makes a much bigger impact on people than watching a video or listening to a talk.
The money we raise from our cheetah encounters supports our education and livestock guarding dog programme, where we provide Anatolian shepherd dogs for free to South African farmers to protect their livestock and reduce conflict with cheetahs and other predators. Without the income from encounters, these important programmes would not be possible.
What can you expect in a cheetah encounter?
We have a structured protocol for both adult and cub encounters that insures the safety of our guests and the comfort of our animals. Only 4 guests are allowed in with a cat at one time and must be accompanied by a volunteer who stays with them at all times and takes photos for them. Our adult cheetahs and cubs over 6 months of age always wear a collar and are held by a lead by a handler the animal knows well and trusts. We only allow guests in with an adult cheetah if it is lying on the ground or sitting up, and relaxed, willing to be stroked.
Cheetahs are naturally shy and non-confrontational so guests are not allowed to approach them directly from the front or touch their faces. They are fleeing animals that run from anything that frightens them so we always give them plenty of space during encounters, only stroking from a position behind them. Only volunteers may take photos in front of adult cheetahs; guests may take some photos in front of cubs if accompanied by a volunteer. We cannot get the cat to raise its head, sit or stand for photos.
People are not allowed to hold or cuddle cubs as they don’t like being confined in any way. We don’t allow people to play with cubs as they can scratch or bite during play and this teaches them bad habits. Though all our cats are born in captivity and hand-raised, they are still wild animals and we must treat them with respect.
All encounters are dependent on the willingness of the cat to meet guests. We never try to force our animals to do anything they don’t want to do. At times we may not be able to offer encounters.
When do cheetah encounters happen?
Cheetah encounters take place every day of the year from 10h00 to 13h00 and from 14h00 to 17h00. We break from 13h00 to 14h00 to allow our staff and volunteers a lunch break and also to give our cheetahs a break from encounters. Encounters at the facility cannot be booked in advance. Tickets are purchased at the entrance, cash only. Generally there is a queue right at 11h00 and again at 14h00 but during the busy Christmas and Easter holiday periods, be prepared for longer queues throughout the day. After 16h00, the odds are greater that the cheetahs will not settle for encounters or the cubs will be very playful since they naturally become more active later in the afternoon, whether in captivity or the wild.
When are cubs available to meet?
We normally get cubs from the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre each year around the end of May or first part of June. Cubs are hand-raised at a special cub-rearing facility and not allowed to come to our main facility until they are at least 4 months of age, generally in September or October; They normally stay until March though that can change from year to year. If you are interested in cub encounters, enquire through our office first to make sure we have cubs available. Cheetah cubs grow quickly so are quite large by the time they reach 6 months of age.
What other animals do we have?
Besides cheetahs, we also have servals, a caracal, black-backed jackals and bat-eared foxes, small carnivores that all benefit from having livestock guarding dogs on South African farms. We have also provided sanctuary for 2 meerkats that were once pets. These animals can usually be seen on tours of the facility.
What can you see on a tour of the facility?
We offer tours of our facility, free of charge, every hour on the half hour starting at 10h30 and ending at 16h30. These tours are conducted by one of our volunteers and last about 30 minutes. Guests first go to our Visitor Centre to watch a DVD about our programme (if time permits) and then are given a tour of the facility by the guide. During the tour, you will see some of our Anatolian ambassador dogs and our small carnivores, then climb the viewing platform to see our ambassador cheetahs and the enclosure where we run our cheetahs twice a week. Your tour guide will talk about our ambassador cheetah and Anatolian livestock guarding dog programmes, explain how we run our cats, provide information about our small carnivore species and explain why they are at Cheetah Outreach, and answer any questions from guests.
What else does Cheetah Outreach offer?
Besides cheetah encounters and tours, we also offer bat-eared fox encounters on request. During summer months, we run our cheetahs twice a week, early in the morning, and guests can book in advance to watch the run. When we have cubs, guests can also book to accompany a cub walk around Paardevlei early in the morning. For more information about these other options, please check the Activities for Visitors page on our website
Why are the cheetahs so inactive?
Cheetahs, like all cats, spend a large percentage of their day resting or sleeping, sometimes up to 16 or 18 hours over a 24-hour period, whether in the wild or in captivity. They are most active in the early morning and later in the afternoon and evening, when they normally hunt in the wild. Our cheetahs are active up to the time they are fed in the morning, around 10:00, and after that, they normally settle for long naps until about 4:00 in the afternoon, when they again become active. It is because they are so inactive during the day that we are able to take guests in to meet them.
Do the cheetahs enjoy being stroked?
Only carefully selected cheetahs become ambassadors and take part in encounters with the public. These are cats with even temperaments, confidence and a strong bond with humans. These cheetahs are hand-reared from birth and develop strong bonds with their handlers. Attention from people is important for their well-being. Encounters with the public only take place if the cat is willing to meet people and be stroked as determined by a handler who knows the cat well. If the cat shows any sign of restlessness or not wanting to be stroked, guests are taken to another more willing cat.