We've had three opportunities to experience cheetahs at Na'ankuse. On the carnivore feeding tour, we saw two cheetahs through a fence as food was thrown over to them. (they may be behind a fence, but these animals have huge territory to range over. It's not like a zoo.)
More exciting was this morning's Walk with a Cheetah. Kiki is one of three cheetahs who has been hand-raised at Na'ankuse. Farmers will often trap very young cheetah babies, and put them in a hole to attract the mother cheetah who has been attacking their livestock. The mother comes to the hole for her young, and is captured and the farmer gets rid of it one way or another. This time, the mother never came back and the farmer called Marlisse to take the days-old cubs. They were consequently hand-raised off a bottle and are totally tame.
Kiki arrived in a truck to meet us out in the midde of the veldt. There were the three of us and a four seniors from Wisconsin just finishing their education degree with a Study Abroad in Namibia. After a bit of petting and stroking near the truck, Kiki got a bit of food to lead her out onto the veldt. We walked quite a distance with her as she got bits of food along the way. She spotted some hartebeest and got distracted to go after them, but mostly we just walked together through the brush and thornbushes. Solomon told of one time Kiki took off after a baby springbok. Worried about the demise of the poor springbok, Solomon ran to follow her, in hopes of rescuing the yougn springbok if Kiki attacked. When the springbok fell, he thought it was finished. However, when he caught up, Kiki was waiting by the springbok until it got up and started moving again. These animals have the instinct to hunt, but not the killer instinct and certainly not the skill.
Well, the walk was thrilling, but of course there were 7 people taking turns getting close and patting Kiki. This afternoon we saw Cheetahs Up Close. Just the three of us, and three cheetahs, and Johannes the guide. Unbelievable!
Johannes brought chicken parts along and fed the cats alternately. He was good at advising how to get pictures with the right angle to the sun and so on. Kiki, our female friend from the morning, Aisha, another female, and Aiku, the large male, were incredibly tame and approachable. We spent about an hour with them. They LOVE being tickled under their chins, just like a house cat. And they purred constantly, with a deep-throated purr. All three of us got to pet and tickle. Jamie fed them some of their food: boy did they stick closely to her after that! They kept licking her hand even after the food was gone. They even licked my hand hopefully although I had never had food. This was truly an amazing experience.
I have so many pictures from that hour visit, and Wayne has so many videos, I'm torn about how to illustrate this post. One of the big thrills for me, of course, was watching the intense excitement on my granddaughter Jamie's face. Her emotion was palpable.
Here she is petting Aiku.
And here the cheetah is licking her hand for the food.