Quote of the Day

“A loving person lives in a loving world.  A hostile person lives in a hostile world; everyone you meet is your mirror.” – Ken Keyes, Jr.

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Pablo, the Grumpy Caracal

3-20-14 Pablo the caracal

In addition to the cheetahs and Tiggy (and his buddy, whom I haven’t mentioned, Bells), Pablo the caracal lives at the Dell Cheetah Center. Caracals are African and Asian cats that look a little like mountain lions. The word caracal comes from Turkish and means “black ears” and they’re known for big, black tufts of fur on their ears. I guess there a lot of theories about what the tufts are for but the main one is that they twitch them to communicate with other caracals. I just think they’re a cool fashion accessory.


Pablo was a little bit of a chunka-monka. In the wild, they’re pretty sleek and about 15 to 45 lbs or so. Pablo doesn’t get a ton of exercise so he’s packed on the pounds.


The thing about Pablo is that he’s grumpy. He was always hissing at us and trying to stalk us. In fact, he was pretty terrifying. He did not like people coming into his enclosure (which we had to do every day to clean up his poop and feed him). We were required to take a big stick with us and to always go in with a partner. One person manned the stick while the other did whatever job was needed. He never charged us or did anything threatening but the fact that the stick was needed was enough of a threat for me. I’m not sure what I would’ve done if he’d come after me. I probably would’ve dropped that stick and run for the door.


Despite his antisocial behavior, I liked Pablo. I like the fact that there’s a big cat in Africa with a Spanish name. I liked that he didn’t like us (sort of proving that he’s still a wild animal). I thought he was handsome, despite his muffin top. One day, he caught a bird (caracals are great bird hunters) and I was impressed that he could catch a wild animal in an enclosure entirely encased in mesh. I appreciated that he had to live up on a hill where almost no one visited him but where he got a good view of the valley. He was just sitting up on that hill being grumpy and hissy all by himself and no even came up to speak Spanish with him or anything.

Of course, that’s me: always rooting for the underdogs and the misunderstood.

Facts about Caracals:

  • Life span: about 12 years
  • Size: 2-4 feet
  • Weight: 13 to 35 lbs (females); 18 to 44 lbs (males)
  • Endangered status: Least concern
  • Threats: habitat loss and kills due to them hunting livestock
  • Behavior: solitary, grumpy, hissy, don’t appreciate people speaking Spanish with them, scared of big sticks
  • Interesting fact: they are able to survive without drinking water and get their water from bodily fluids in their prey
  • Another interesting fact: they are important in Egyptian religion and are also used for hunting and in blood sports in India
  • There is a unit of the Israeli Defense Forces called the Caracal Battalion.
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The Slaughter (Warning: This is Probably Graphic)

To start, here are a few facts for you:

  1. Cheetahs are carnivores. They like lean meat and do not like fat.
  2. In the wild, cheetahs eat impala.
  3. Impalas are wild and need to be hunted if they are to be fed to cheetahs.
  4. It is expensive and time-consuming to hunt enough impalas to feed 8 cheetahs, 2 servals, and a caracal each week.
  5. The closest meat to an impala is horse or donkey.
  6. Donkeys and horses are cheap. You can buy one or two every few weeks and they are delivered whole to the ranch.

So, those were the facts we were faced with. Every two-weeks-or-so a whole (but dead) horse or two is delivered to the ranch for the cheetahs. Everything we’d all read about volunteering at the Dell Cheetah Center said that the slaughter was the worst part of the experience. Since I have a history of passing out, I was a little nervous that I’d embarrass myself.

It turns out, I did the opposite.

3-18-14 The slaughter

First, the horses showed up. There were two of them and they had both died from a gunshot to the head. Thank goodness we didn’t have to witness that part. Once at the farm, they were hung from horror-movie like hooks, skinned, and gutted. The helpers on the farms hacked up the horses into large pieces and hung them from hooks in the cheetah kitchen.

I volunteered to hack up those hanging pieces.

I don’t know why I did it. I think it was mainly to prove that I could hang with the boys and take care of business when it counted. Our volunteer coordinator showed me how to follow the sinew and tendons to split apart the pieces of meat into large chunks. It was like a weird, horror movie puzzle. I wanted to figure out how to take it apart in the quickest and most meat-saving-est way possible. There are no pictures from the slaughterhouse (I didn’t want to get blood on my camera) but here’s how I felt:



OK, it’s surprisingly hard to find a good pic of a badass girl with a knife but I won’t turn it into a feminist argument. Whatever was going on, I hacked up that horse and I hacked it up good.

If you want to see how they gutted the horse, here is a crazy video I took. Be warned, it’s graphic and Laura swallows a bug.

For all future volunteers, it’s not as bad as it seems. You do not have to watch the horse being prepped (several in our group chose not to). It’s pretty gross. You also do not have to cut the pieces of meat on hooks (only a few of us did that). That part was really tiring, messy, and a little gross. The people who did not cut the meat from the bones cut the fat off our pieces and then diced the meat. Those pieces are then run through a grinder for the cheetahs. There were people who also did not do the meat dicing but helped to package the ground meat for later use. There were plenty of things for people to do, depending on their comfort level.

All I have left to say is that after hacking up pieces of meat for a few hours, this is how I felt:


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Meet Tigger at the Dell Cheetah Centre

In addition to the cheetahs, the Dell Cheetah Centre also houses two servals (Tigger and Bells) and one caracal (Pablo). Tiggy ended up being my absolute favorite animal at DCC. Estelle even threatened to search my bags when I left to make sure I didn’t smuggle him away.


Servals are great hunters in the wild. Those huge ears let them hear just about everything and they can jump as high as 10 feet to catch prey.


At the Dell Cheetah Center, they were fed chicken legs and occasional chicks and mice.


Tiggy only liked to eat the heads, though. So picky!


Tiggy was previously someone’s pet so he’s used to human interaction. We’d play with him everyday and try to walk him as often as possible. The only problem was that Tiggy wasn’t too interested in walking. Over the weeks, we came up with some creative solutions like mouse (or chick) on a stick.


Just letting him wander where he wanted to go was sometimes helpful. Most of the time he wanted to go back in his cage, though.


Tiggy and Jade used to live next door to each other and they would meet through the fence when we were walking him.


Servals are not an endangered species. However, they are hunted because their meat is considered a delicacy, their pelt resembles a cheetah or leopard cub’s (and they are sold as such), or they are a nuisance to humans. Who could get mad at this little face, though?

Tiggy has epilepsy which is well-controlled with medication. Also, due to poor nutrition when he was younger, his growth was somewhat stunted. If you watch the videos of him walking, you can see that he has a somewhat interesting gait.

Tiggy makes a great baby monster noise when he doesn’t want to move. I didn’t manage to get it on video but if you ever hang out with Randy or me, we’ll imitate it for you. If anyone has met Tigger and has video of him, let me know in the comments!

Posted in Adventure, Animals, Charities, Dell Cheetah Center, Dell Cheetah Centre, Fun Stuff, Offbeat Site, Servals, Tourist Activities | 1 Comment

Our First Day at the Dell Cheetah Centre

We signed up for two weeks at the Dell Cheetah Centre in Parys, South Africa. The first few days were a whirlwind of information and activities. On the first day, we met the owner, Estelle Kemp, and the other volunteers at the Jo’burg Airport. There were six of us in all (three of us Americans, one Brit, one Aussie, and one Hollander). All of us seemed a little nervous and excited. Several of them had flown in that morning and were tired, as well.


Parys is about an hour-and-a-half from Jo’burg so we piled into the van and headed off.


This is where we got to stay while we were there. The others had dorm-style rooms in the main house but we were hooked up with our own little cabin-type house.


It was awesome to look out the window and see two cheetahs.


It was really nice inside, too. Ignore our mess.

After we plopped down our stuff, we had a quick tour of the center and a talk about cheetahs. People from the public are able to come, hear the talk, and interact with the cheetahs and other cats, by the way. So, if you want to pet a cheetah but aren’t too interested in feeding them and doing hard labor, that might be a good option.


Pretty soon they put us to work. Every day, the animals are fed around 5pm and it would be our job to prepare the food and feed them. I’m authorized to go in the Cheetah Kitchen.


Our volunteer coordinator and the two volunteers who had been at the center for a few weeks showed us what we would need to do.


Isn’t this good advice for any house?


Each cheetah or other cat gets a very specific amount of food each day. Generally, they have horse or donkey meat since it is similar to their diet in the wild (but cheaper than hunting impala every week). The minced meat is mixed (by us, by hand) with some protein powder.  The smaller cats (whom I’ll talk about later) get chicken or mice.


When we were done mixing, we all picked a bowl and had to feed one of the cheetahs. I’m not gonna lie, I was nervous. I picked up Tessa’s bowl. Little did I know (since no one told me) that Tessa is a grumpy girl who likes to run at the people putting down her food. I went in, put down the food, and all of a sudden a cheetah was running at me in a bluff (which, according to the San Diego Zoo is described as this: Teeth shown in wide-mouth snarl, body hunched, head lowered, eyes staring upward, abrupt small leaps and/or sudden charges, combined with a hard downward thump on the ground with both forepaws). I am proud to say that I didn’t run or scream or anything (I tend to freeze when scared anyway) and she didn’t come anywhere close to me. If that’s not excitement on your first day, I don’t know what is!


Randy had another exciting cheetah to feed. He fed Trigger (pictured above), a young male cheetah who does not belong to the center. He was brought over to mate with the female cheetahs in hopes of producing new litters of cubs. He has not been worked with like the cheetahs at the center and he is very unpredictable. In order to enter his cage, our volunteer coordinator (who is also the main cheetah handler), accompanies us and brings a large wooden stick. The cheetahs are scared of the stick and will back off when they see it. That did not make me feel more comfortable but what can you do? Trigger did not run at anyone when Randy fed him.


After feeding time, we wash up the bowls and close up shop. We’re then free to do what we want and make dinner. Although our food is provided, we had to prepare and cook it ourselves. It’s a good bonding activity with the other volunteers and a nice way to learn more about each other. It was a long, tiring first day, though, and I think we were all ready for bed and an early wake up call for day two.

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More Backpacking at Any Age

I know this is a publicity gimmick but it is adorable! An and Ria (ages 72 and 78) have never flown in an airplane so this company arranged for them to fly to Barcelona. I love their very pure excitement (and nervousness) for something that I’ve started to find mundane. I think I’ll try to remember their reactions during our next flight so I can remember how amazing it is that we’re in a cylinder in the sky.

I think everything in this video goes back to the fact that you can face any fear (and start any new adventure) – no matter how old (or young) you are. Enjoy!


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Surviving a Cheetah Attack

I have read that cheetahs are not typically aggressive towards humans. They are usually just inquisitive, like the pictures from this safari-I-wish-I-had-been-on show. However, they are wild animals with sharp teeth. I don’t think there’s any guarantee that they won’t find us juicy and delicious.

In 2013, Adam Sandler was attacked by a cheetah while he was in their enclosure. I’m sure it was just a young, playful cheetah BUT they still have sharp teeth! The year before, a woman was attacked while petting a cheetah and her husband photographed the whole thing. I’m torn about that since I would want the pics for my picture of the day project but Randy should also try to kick that guy off of me.

I have found this very helpful wikihow article. If you’re going to volunteer with cheetahs, it’s important to know How to Survive a Cheetah Attack.



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Quote of the Day

“Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.” – Mahatma Gandhi

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Cheetahs in Popular Culture

Everyone loves cheetahs, right? Here are some of the pop culture references to cheetahs that I could find.

This is the first one I thought of. Harold and Kumar rode a cheetah in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. Although that would make an awesome picture of the day, I don’t think I’ll be attempting it.

I always thought there was something a little strange about Chester Cheetah. He seems so self-absorbed and egotistical, like those hip musicians with their complicated shoes. I did like his April Fool’s perfume joke, though. Still, there’s just something about him…

Who can forget the Cheetah Girls and their popular movie, Cheetah-licious Christmas tour, and clothes? I still have fond memories of my musical Cheetah Girls toothbrush.

Cameron Diaz had a few cheetahs in the movie “The Counselor.” I haven’t seen it but it sounds sort of insane.

The movie Duma is based on a book and looks pretty cute. This trailer also features the folklore story of how cheetahs got their tear marks so I like that tie-in.

Cheetara is a boobilicious interpretation of cheetahs. Thundercats, ho!


Cheeta was the name of Tarzan’s monkey.


The Free State Cheetahs have a mascot with the creative name of Cheetah.


A roller coaster called Cheetah Hunt got stuck last year and everyone had to be rescued. Don’t tell Randy – he hates roller coasters.

Cheetah Hunt

Finally, Nick Cannon made the odd and unfortunate choice of dying his hair in a cheetah pattern.

Nick Cannon

While I was looking things up, I found this excellent list of pop culture references to cheetahs. They missed Nick Cannon, though.

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!

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The Dell Cheetah Centre – Posts from Past Volunteers

There have been a lot of volunteers at the Dell Cheetah Centre over the years and I love reading about their time volunteering. Here are some links if you’re interested in reading about what they went through:

Sophie volunteered for a month in 2014. Her blog is really cute since it seems that a bunch of school kids logged in to ask her questions (which she answered) while there. Awesome!

Amanda took some AMAZING pictures of the Dell Cheetah Center and her Kruger trip. I really wish I could take pictures like that!

Raewyn volunteered for two weeks in 2012.

Taylor volunteered for a month in 2012.

Becca was a volunteer coordinator for six months in 2011. It’s too bad she didn’t maintain her blog during that time but I’m sure she was busy with cheetah duties!

If there are other volunteers who have blogs out there, please let me know! I would love to read more about how other people fared at DCC and see pictures of their time!

3-21-14 Cheetah time

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