Petting Endangered Animals
Would you do it?

by Ilona Kauremszky

Want to pet the world’s fastest land animal? Drop by the Spier Wine Estate, a 25-minute drive from Cape Town, South Africa, a neat Cheetah Outreach protection program that will let you do just that.

After touring the winery and sampling some award-winning vintages, I came across an enclosed pen. Inside was an endangered Southern African cheetah.

My curiosity was piqued, and I found some handlers who were willing to allow me to have my first cheetah encounter, up close and personal. A handler escorted me in to the pen and checked to make sure the cheetah was in an approachable mood before collaring him. People can stroke the cheetahs only if they appear relaxed — if they are sitting or lying down. Cheetahs are shy animals and naturally non-confrontational, which means they shouldn’t be approached head-on.

Then, they showed me the ins and outs of petting the big cats. Here are the cheetah petting tips I learned:

  1. Sit behind him.
  2. Gently stroke his back, avoiding his eyes.
  3. Don’t do anything sudden or aggressive.

The cheetah I met is Joseph. Born in captivity at a breeding centre in Pretoria, he was adopted by the Spier Cheetah Outreach program when only a baby. He has gone on to stardom and is a celebrity in his own right.

He’s been in several films and photo shoots for magazines like French Vogue. If you watch a Patrick Swayze movie titled King Solomon’s Mines you will see this black-spotted, wild feline. The late actor was a keen conservationist who supported the Cheetah Outreach program when he discovered it during the film shoot.

Cheetahs are an endangered species. The Cheetah Outreach program was created to help educate visitors about the need to protect these wild animals and to create awareness about their plight. The numbers continue to plummet each year. Scientists have estimated their extinction in the wild could occur within the next 10 years. In South Africa, it’s estimated that only about 400 cheetahs remain in their natural environment.

The Spier Cheetah Outreach program was created by Annie Beckhelling, who launched it in 1997 with only one hectare of land provided by Spier wine estates.

The real take away I had from this experience was the fleeting moment between life and death, and how for a moment, even a gentle stroke with a cheetah can hold a lifetime of memories.

Watch the video below to get a real sense of what it’s like to get up close to a big cat.

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