The final birthday gift

In my element with Kiara

In my element with Kiara

My birthday and cheetah campaign are long done.  As promised, I visited Kwa Cheetah during December so here’s the feedback.

From Durban, it’s almost a 3 hour drive and a mad-about-the-bush friend drove us up just past Ladysmith.  (The less said about the rundown, dirty, now-sad town of Ladysmith, the better).

We arrived at Kwa Cheetah, and taking a wrong turn once inside the game reserve, spotted some eland (the biggest of the buck) along the road.  What luck to witness a tousle up close.

Eland sizing up, up close

Eland sizing up, up close

Eland locking horns

Eland locking horns

Kwa Cheetah People

At Kwa Cheetah, before we joined the talk, I went off to meet Elizke who runs the programme with her husband and a small team.  I was so excited to learn that they’re as passionate about these animals as anyone can be, once rushing out in the dark to save some newborn cubs from drowning in puddles during some heavy rains.

Cheetah fans: Desmond, Elizke & I

Cheetah fans: Desmond, Elizke & I

The care of cheetahs

They know each cheetah by name and traits the way only parents can.  We walked a generous private tour around each enclosure.  The first, held the kids – about 9 months old – who already stood above my knee already at such a young age.  Their purrs reverberate the surface of their straw-like fur at their throats.

In the adult male enclosure, I quickly chose a favourite – Jack, who likes suckling on fingers.  He lay on his side in the shade of a tree and purred while sucking my thumb!  Only my giggle aptly described the strange sensation of his rough, strong tongue and purring with closed eyes all of which belies his killer instinct complete with non-retractable killer claws and split-second reaction agility.

Petting one of the big boys

Petting one of the big boys

In one female enclosure, we didn’t enter as an expectant mother cat watched us aloofly.  Almost all the cats are to be released into the wild when they’re ready.  I learned that it’s a delicate balance of patience and time to breed, raise, train, and release these animals.  Only with an intimate knowledge of their stages of development, is it possible to run a successful breed and release programme.  Kwa Cheetah is the most successful programme among its equals and it’s due to the passion of its people.  Such a beautiful interaction to witness.

Then we went on to join the group talk and tour.

Interesting facts

  • Cheetahs are the fastest land animal but only for around 400 metres and then they need to rest. It’s during this vulnerable period that lions kill them.  They rest for most of the day.  They’re not nocturnal and hunt only during the day and can spot a bushbuck (the smallest of them all, reaching only 70cm tall), 5km away.
  • The black tear lines absorb light so that the glare doesn’t affect their vision.
  • At full speed, they can cover the length of a rugby field (144m) in 16 seconds. Each stride can reach 9 metres – the length of 2 game drive vehicles.
  • Unlike kitty at home, their claws are not retractable & they use them for traction as an athlete uses spikes.
  • If you look at kitty’s paws, you’ll see a toe / pad higher up the leg than any of the others. This prehistoric 5th toe is useless is all cats except the cheetah which uses it as a brake.

I’m in awe!

Finding Yakira

Afterwards, we climbed into the Land Cruiser to go find Yakira, ambassador of Kwa Cheetah.  As a baby, her shoulders had accidentally been crushed by her mother.  Today, her narrow shoulders, under-developed muscles, and short front legs attest to this.  She was raised with Zulu, the meerkat, and has learned to sit up on her haunches – a comfortable position that takes weight off her front end.  She’s a sad yet inspirational personality and very much the darling of Kwa Cheetah.

Special girl, Yakira

Special girl, Yakira

Kiara & Sailor, the whippet, assisting with the search for Yakira

Kiara & Sailor, the whippet, assisting with the search for Yakira

One of Kwa Cheetah’s focus areas is the volunteer programme.  What an experience.  If you’d like to consider a week at the programme, click on the pic below to go to or contact Elizke.

Kwa Cheetahtame cheetah

Well, I think I grinned with glee the entire day!  Thank you, everyone, for taking an interest and helping to keep this programme going.  And for my special birthday present experience.


4 thoughts on “The final birthday gift

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