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.