An excellent half-day excursion from Joburg is a visit at the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre near Hartebeesport Dam. We recently toured it while my brother and kids were in town. Not only did we come home with many new impressions and facts to digest, we are now the proud adoptive parents of a young cheetah named Valiant. We didn’t quite bring him home, in case you’re wondering (Noisette has not particularly embraced the cats I’ve brought home in the past, so an entire cheetah might have seriously challenged our marriage), but we did adopt him to help pay for part of his food and medical care.
De Wildt is actually not only dedicated to breeding and studying cheetahs, but a whole host of other endangered animals. In addition to petting a cheetah (no doubt the highlight for the kids) we got to observe the feeding of wild dogs and drove by cages of vultures, hyenas, honey badgers, caracals, and African wild cats, as well as some free-roaming ostriches and impalas.
Here are some of the facts we learned (I hope I remembered everything correctly):
- Cheetahs can accelerate from 0 to 80 km/h in 3 seconds
- It takes them 8 meters to come to a complete stop from running at 100 km/h
- Cheetahs can also turn at a right angle, using their tails for stability, when running at 100 km/h
- A Cheetah’s speed comes at the expense of strength, leaving him very vulnerable to bigger predators; he will only eat what he has killed, but it is often taken away by lions, especially since a cheetah gets so overheated from the hunt that he has to wait up to 40 minutes before he can start eating
- Cheetahs often live in a sort of symbiosis with honey badgers. Apparently, cheetah babies are born with a pale patch on their backs that makes them resemble the honey badger. Unlike the cheetah, a honey badger mother will go to great lengths to protect her young, and even avenge their death, if, say, a lion kills them. They are known as incredibly fierce animals. She will inflict serious injuries with her strong claws, which the lion will remember, and perhaps forego the next meal of babies. Thus, cheetah babies have a slight benefit from their resemblance to honey badgers.
- Cheetahs are the only cats that do not retract their claws; instead, they function like spikes when they run and their feet are actually more like that of a dog
- Vultures mate for life and are important in reducing disease (by quickly eliminating large carcasses), but their large wingspan makes them extremely vulnerable to power lines; De Wildt houses a number of vultures that can no longer fly and have to be fed to survive
- While looking very bloody, a kill by wild dogs is actually very swift and fast and perhaps more “humane,” if that term can be used for what happens in the wild, than that of, say, a lion (who can take hours to “strangle” prey)
- African wild cats are endangered because feral house cats will mate with them and thus dilute the blood lines
- The caracal is endangered because farmers take up his space and then kill him for stealing livestock, instead of opting for the much better alternative of getting an Anatolian sheep dog to protect their flock
- Caracals can catch birds in mid flight
- Cheetahs are ticklish, which is why you should pet them with your flat hand!