So after the initial introduction to the animals, our days tended to follow a similar pattern. Up early to clean the enclosures and refill all the water buckets. As it was Winter this was very cold (as low as –10°C!) and often meant breaking ice on water buckets. We also fed the servals which was tricky as there were 3, 2 in one enclosure and 1 in the other. Unfortunately the two together were distinctly unfriendly and would try to take the food out of your hands with much snarling, teeth baring and swiping. Once all fingers and toes were accounted for we had breakfast and set about planning the days work.
Each day differed at this point, from painting to digging up rocks, deep cleaning the enclosures cutting up meat etc. One person always had to babysit the cubs, Rafa and Duke, which I imagine is far more fun than babysitting an actual baby. The cubs were full of energy early in the day and chased each other frantically for hours before the sun came up and they dozed in the heat. These times were fun as you could sit next to them and stroke them or give them toys to play with (although getting the toy back was tricky, cheetahs are very possesive). The cubs enclosure backed on to Shaka’s meaning they could see each other which led to some tense standoffs. Rafa would tend to backoff but Duke would stand his ground and hiss (a cheetahs’ way of signalling aggression) whilst Shaka looked on, clearly curious and bemused at the angry bundle of fur next door. Shaka was about 4 or 5 times the size of Duke and so Duke’s bravery may have just been stupidity but you have to give him credit for trying.
We also spent time with two adult cheetahs who were friendly enough to be approached, Nala and Jasmine. Nala was the original ambassador, a 9 year old female who was very friendly and lovely. Jasmine was the mother of the cubs and whilst friendly, she quickly became bored of adoring fans and wandered off to do her own thing.
As you may see, there was a Disney theme in naming the cheetah with one other being called Jade. Jade had a genetic condition were essentially she had flat feet (I know the feeling). She also had an aversion to males which made things tricky. She had been trained to take a chick from your hands which meant getting close and holding the chick above her until both front paws came up off the ground and she stood on her back legs before we dropped the chick into her mouth. Some days she would do this, others we would be forced to back off from the hissing, teeth baring cheetah. Incidentally the other cheetahs were called Tessa and Shakira thus ending the Disney theme.
Feeding occurred every day and was normally several kilograms of horsemeat for the cheetahs. Things got a bit tense at this point and cheetahs were very eager for meat regardless of whether or not your hand was on the bowl. Shakira liked to try and knock the bowl out of your hand whilst Jasmine felt obliged to put her face in it as you lowering the bowl to the ground, meaning her teeth were inches from your fingers. Tessa however was my favourite. She would crouch down behind some rocks as you entered and as you walked in she would sprint towards you and you had to put the bowl down before she got to you or else teeth baring and hissing would occur. There is an thrill about a hungry adult cheetah sprinting towards you that you just don’t get in daily life. That or I am just insane.
Cheetah feeding normally was followed by the zebra feeding, Don Juan and Hector, who were lovely but very timid and we sat for an hour or two watching them come close and back off several times before eventually feeding.
This was our routine every day but we had occasional field trips and surprises along the way. In hindsight I don’t approve of some events but we’ll get to those later.