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cheetahs are awesome
otjitotongwe

Cheetah against tree

Cheetah against tree

I spent a while this afternoon thinking about how to title this post.  I came up with options like, "My Date With a Cheetah," "Spotted Fever" (which I still kinda like), and "Cheetah Crazy."  None of the post titles came close to describing their sheer awesomeness.  So, in what may be the most obvious post title ever, I fell back on "Cheetahs Are Awesome."

Cheetah outside fence

Cheetah inside fence, us outside

They are, though.  They are beautiful, amazing, agile, and strong animals.

Cheetah in the wild

Cheetah in the "wild"

Once, cheetahs roamed five continents but, today, their population numbers around 10,000 across Africa and Asia.  Namibia contains about a quarter of the world's cheetah population, the highest concentration of cheetahs in the world.  There, cheetahs have been a nuisance to farmers for the last century. 

Cheetah Cheetahs
Cheetah coming for dinner Cheetah

Cheetahs in the "wild" environment

The Nel family had been farming in Namibia since the 1930s.  In the early 1990s, wild cheetah killed over thirty of their goats, sheep, and livestock.  Most farmers in Namibia killed the wild cheetahs who pestered their flock, but the Nel family chose to capture the animals. 

Cheetah and a fly

Cheetah staring down a fly

They fenced 25 hectacres of their land to keep the captured cheetahs.  They still farm but have devoted a great deal of resources and money to establishing the Otjitotongwe Cheetah Farm as a conservation project.

Cheetahs

Cheetahs

If a farmer is being pestered by a cheetah, the family will pay the farmer $2,500 to capture the cheetah, ridding the farmer of a problem and keeping the animal alive.  The conservation park now has about 30 cheetahs.

Cheetah Cheetah tail
Cheetah

Cheetah

Close-ups

On the one hand, it is certainly better that farmers are taking an effort to keep the cheetahs alive, rather than being shot or sold for pelts, as was frequently done in the 1980s when the cheetah population in Namibia dropped by half.  Today, there are 2,500 cheetah in Namibia and their classification has changed from endangered to vulnerable, in part because of the efforts of groups like the Otjitotongwe Cheetah Farm.  

Cheetah

Cheetah with glowing eyes

The family has tried to give the cheetahs to Etosha National Park, the largest game park in Namibia, but Etosha does not want any more cheetahs, claiming that it will throw off the balance of animals in the reserve.  And, we have visited other conservation centers, such as Patara Elephant Farm in Thailand, and support the efforts of such groups. 

Scratching a cheetah's head Scratching head of a cheetah
Scratching head of cheetah Cheetah face

Scratching a cheetah's head

Yet, I hesitate to recommend a visit to the conservation center.  The reason I hesitate is because the family took the cubs of a pregnant female and raised the cubs by hand, alongside their family beagle.  The cheetah cubs are now over 15 years old and are obviously loved and cared for by their owners. 

Cheetah and dog

Beagle with cheetah

The cheetah cubs have no hesitation around humans: they walking near people, lick their hands, and get scratches and pets, just like we love and cuddle Chewy and Abby.

Cheetah licking hand Cheetah rolling over
Cheetah leaping onto wall

Cheetah leaping onto wall

Cheetah licking hand, rolling over, jumping onto wall

Being able to experience these awesome animals so closely was, indeed, awesome.  But, it was also strange.  These are wild, powerful animals that can run at speeds up to 70 miles per hour yet act much like the common housecat.

 Cheetahs

Wild cheetahs

The remaining cheetahs have been left in the "wild" area, the fenced in 25 hectacres, where they are fed donkey meat once a day.  We climbed onto bakkies and drove to a center area where the Nel's son parked the truck and the cheetahs began to emerge slowly out from the bushes.

Cheetah drooling

Cheetah drooling

Most were hungry and came eagerly to the truck, drooling and ready for food.

Wild cheetah with one eye

Half-blind cheetah

One of the cheetah's had an injured eye, giving him a freaky appearance, especially when he opened his mouth.

Cheetahs fighting over meat

Cheetahs running for meat

When the Nel's son threw the donkey meat into the center of the group, we witnessed their strength and speed.  Though we had four different chances, we weren't able to get a single shot of them actually catching the meat because they ran faster than our camera shutter clicked.

Cheetah with meat

Cheetah with meat

Then, they hunkered down to eat the portion they grabbed or dispersed into the thickets, blending seamlessly into the yellow grasses and bushes.

Cheetah

Cheetah looking at us

Though I left with some doubts about the farm itself, I had no doubts about one thing: cheetahs are awesome.

*Our trip was sponsored in part by Africa-in-Focus but they did not ask us to write this post or any part of this post.  As always, our opinions (both good and bad) are our own.  If you are interested in our perceptions of the expedition in general, check out our Overlanding 101 post where we provide a detailed review of the trip.

01/06/2011 08:23
amazing photos. the half blind one is rather frightening to look at though.
mina | sending postcards's recent blog post: la taberna del obispo
01/06/2011 11:51
wow I am so impressed by your photos and also my anxiety looking at this animal. You would never think it was cuddly enough to pet.
Ayngelina's recent blog post: The secret I’m most afraid to tell you
01/06/2011 21:38
Nice post. I understand your dilemma. I visited the "tiger temple" in Thailand and was similarly conflicted. While it was amazing to spend time with these beautiful animals I couln't help feeling it wasn't right (which is why I refused the "tiger's head in lap" photo-op.
Kristina's recent blog post: Kindle 3 Review-Part 2
01/06/2011 22:49
Cheetahs are my favorite big cats! Cheethas ARE awesome! I don't how how I feel about the cheetah cubs as well -- but from I've seen in videos and what not, they seem to be able to adjust well to domesticated life. But I dunno...
Jill-Jack and Jill Travel The World's recent blog post: The Funniest Travel Writer and Blogger
01/07/2011 02:44
Wow great photo's. Cheetahs have to be one of my favourite big cats too (second to Jaguars I think)
01/07/2011 10:07
Thanks Mina! It is freaky, isn't it?

Ayngelina, the guides told us to be careful when petting them - to only touch them on the tops of their heads and avoid touching one of the cheetahs. But, otherwise, they were just like giant cats.

Thanks Kristina! It's a very strange feeling and we wouldn't have done this trip except that it was part of our overland tour, so we had to do it. We specifically avoided Tiger Temple in Thailand because we felt strange about being amongst wild animals who were trained not to be wild.

Jill, That's interesting - I hadn't known before that cheetahs could be domesticated but it explains why these were so docile.

Thanks AdventureRob! I have always wanted to see jaguars. We'll have to make a trip to South America to see them!
Akila's recent blog post: strange shot: two-headed giraffe
01/07/2011 10:30
Really awesome photos! We were able to spend some time in S. Africa studying them up close for 10 weeks and those amber eyes will melt you!
I would have loved to get closer, but watching them tear apart their dinner was a little frightening. :-)
Great post!
01/07/2011 18:42
Lakshmi Sankar
Great posting, Akila! Excellent pictures, Patrick! Mom
01/07/2011 23:44
This post was absolutely superb!!! I totally want a cheetah as a pet now. :) But well, I understand your hesitancy with supporting cheetahs raised as pets. The pics were absolutely divine!
01/08/2011 15:15
Thanks Lisa! Wow, 10 weeks sounds amazing. One of the women on our overland trip had also worked at the cheetah project for 6 weeks and she loved it.

Thanks Mom!

Andi, thanks! I know what you mean - they're so beautiful, I really wanted one as a pet, too.
Akila's recent blog post: strange shot: two-headed giraffe
01/11/2011 20:08
Thans Mom! We loved seeing the cheetahs. :)
Akila's recent blog post: candid canine: war eagle!
01/17/2011 11:42
This is so great! My nephew is obsessed with cheetahs for the past couple of years so he and I have bonded over a mutual love. Gorgeous photos :)
01/17/2011 11:42
That's really sweet! I wonder why he likes cheetahs? Either way, they're awesome animals!
Akila's recent blog post: 25 lions, 24 hours
09/28/2011 09:34
amanda
My brother-in-law works for The Cheetah Conservation Fund in Otjiwarongo, Namibia They don't capture and keep the cheetahs, but instead focus on education, and conservation of the cheetahs in the wild, including introducing Kangal Anatolian Shepherd livestock guarding dogs to farmers to protect their livestock and act as a deterrent to cheetah and reduce farmer/cheetah conflict. CCF also is involved in scientific research to support the conservation of these amazing animals. If you love cheetahs, CCF is a lot less conflicting! http://www.cheetah.org/?nd=home
09/30/2011 10:47
Amanda, Thank you so much for providing info about the CCF. I've heard great things about their organization and if we ever make it back to Namibia, that is one of the places on our list to see.
Akila's recent blog post: the taste of two years

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