I remember once at school when the hockey team did a tour in South Africa and had the opportunity to pet a cheetah. It’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since.
So when we were planning our SA trip, I was looking for a charity that supported these incredible animals and discovered Cheetah Outreach an hour outside of the city in Franschoek*.
It was definitely one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had.
Cheetah Outreach is a non-profit organization that helps with the long-term conservation of free-ranging cheetahs.
There’s only an estimated 7,100 cheetahs in the wild, and only 500 of those are free-ranging.
Free-ranging cheetahs live outside of protected areas, mainly on farmland.
Not only is the habitat of the cheetah continuously shrinking, but the conflict with farmers protecting their livestock is also damaging. Part of the work carried out by Cheetah Outreach is their Livestock Guarding Dog Programme which is a non-lethal means of predator control.
Anatolian shepherd dogs are given to farmers as pups and are raised with the herd, instinctively protecting them from predators. This predator deterrence prevents farmers from needing to trap and shoot cheetahs in order to protect their livestock.
Their education programme provides South African children – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds – the opportunity to learn more about their natural wildlife heritage. They also participate in scientific studies to help improve the understanding of cheetah biology and conservation.
It’s an amazing charity working hard to protect the cheetah population in South Africa and I was thrilled that we would be able to help them do that.
Our cheetah encounter experience
After arriving at Cheetah Outreach and paying our entry and experience fee, we gathered with the other guests on the outside of the enclosures.
Here, the volunteer staff told us about the work that Cheetah Outreach does as well as how the experience would go. We were given strict rules to follow – for our own safety as well as the cheetah’s – plus some information about the specific cheetahs they had on site.
The moment had finally arrived.
We disinfected our hands, handed our phones and cameras to the keeper and prepared to enter the cheetah enclosure.
Tinashe was lying asleep in a shaded space at the far end of the enclosure. We silently made our way over in single file while the keeper talked to us about what was going to happen next. Stopping a few feet away from the cheetah, we all stood breathless.
She approached Tinashe, quietly talking to him to let us know we were there so he wasn’t startled. There was 6 of us in the group and the keeper called the first pair forward.
Soon it was our turn.
We stepped forward and crouched down next to Tinashe, placing a hand on his fur. His tail twitched but he remained calm and relaxed, not bothered by our present.
His fur was somehow coarse and soft at the same time. And while we stroked his back, you could feel his ribcage move with every breath. IT was amazing, almost unbelievable that we were this close to such an amazing animal.
The keeper took some photos of us, plus some extras of Tinashe before we stepped back to allow the third couple to have their turn.
The moment we stepped away I felt sad. It was one of those experiences I wished wouldn’t end – it was over way too soon.
By the time we’d exited the enclosure, Tinashe was wide awake. He was still lying stretched out in the shade with the occasional twitch of his tail, but he was watching us with interest.
I absolutely loved visiting Cheetah Outreach, something I would do again in a heartbeat. The staff and volunteers were really knowledgeable and friendly. And they really did have the cheetahs’ wellbeing and best interests at heart.
*Unfortunately, the Franschoek location is no longer open.