If not released to the wilds why are we breeding Cheetahs? Gene pool conservation, zoos, canned hunting, entertainment.
Nestled in the hills near Hartebeestpoort dam is a Cheetah Center started back in 1971 when a farmer shot a female Cheetah with cubs. Today, the 50 odd resident Cheetah live in spacious enclosures and are gorgeous to behold. Some are ambassadors and visit schools and community functions to raise awareness for their species. Others are runners and entertain and educate visitors to the center as they chase the plastic lure down a 200 meter grassy runway. Or lets say most of them do. On the day of our visit the King Cheetah called Heathcliff refused to cooperate. A select few are used for interactions, namely petting. Our guide was quick to point out that they never use cubs for this activity, only fully grown Cheetah. Then last but not least, the Cheetah at the center are used for breeding to perpetuate the dwindling numbers of the species in the wild and preserve the gene pool.
Over the past forty plus years of the center’s existence around 800 cubs have been born. That’s an average of 20 a year. When I asked what happened to them, the first guide told me they get sold to zoos, other breeding programs and a few have gotten released. However, she couldn’t give me any numbers. Similarly the brief film documenting the history of the center noted the number of cubs born, but no other figures of how the center was really aiding the perpetuation of the Cheetah, particularly in the wilds.
Later on the game drive, which took us through dense foliage and large enclosures, I once again posed my question. Our guide responded similarly with no figures of where the Cheetah went, however, he did point out that release sites were difficult to find. Farmers did not want Cheetahs around. After all, that’s what got the center started… a couple of Cheetah cubs whose mother was killed by a farmer. Also, supposedly game reserves with Big Cats tend to ‘stock’ them with Lions. Guests want to see the King of the Jungle and so some reserves have too many lions and can’t accommodate Cheetah on their property even if they wanted to. (Lion, being much larger, are a threat to Cheetah, will chase them away from their prey and even kill them.)
So my question is, if Cheetahs are not routinely released back into the wilds, what really happens to the hundreds born in captivity? The 20 born each year at this location? I was assured that they are not sold for canned hunting from this center, however, there are others who do Cheetah cub petting and then, like the Lions, when they reach puberty are sold to outfits for canned hunts.
Being so close to these magnificent animals in such a well cared for and beautiful setting was spectacular… and we hoped that all was truly as it seemed!
What you can do…
Please never engage in Lion or Cheetah cub petting. When you visit a center that breeds Cheetahs ask them what really happens to them.
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