A day in the life…


A day in the life of an ambassador cheetah

I’m honored to introduce my first contribution, of many to come, for National Geographic News Watch.  I’ll be updating here and linking to National Geographic, reporting on the story of cheetahs, the people behind the conservation efforts, and the work local residents are doing to save the earth’s fastest cat.  View the post on NatGeoNewsWatch.

Tango is a cheetah that hails from South Africa’s Cheetah Outreach, and resides with his people at Project Survival’s Cat Haven just outside Kings Canyon, California.

An ambassador for the species is an animal that, while not tame, is trained to make public appearances on behalf of educational outreach for conservation. Until one sees an animal in real life, all the factual information in the world isn’t going to drive home the emotional and stunning impact of a live cheetah 10 feet away. It is an event that nobody forgets, and brings the issues surrounding the cheetah to another level for an audience that lives on the other side of the world.

The Landrover/Jaguar dealership in Corte Madera, California is located in a rather tony area of Marin County. An Aston Martin on display, and some rather serious looking salespeople give the impression this is a location where people do more than window shop. They’ve hosted a customer appreciation day, and welcomed Cat Haven as a featured guest.

Tango’s presence helps raise funds and awareness for the Soysambu Cheetah Center in Kenya. According to Project Survival’s website: “The Cheetah Center at Soysambu will work to educate people about the plight of the cheetah through education programs both at the Cheetah Center and also off-site programs. These programs will include cheetah encounters, school presentations and fundraising opportunities to aid the Soysambu Conservancy and Cheetah Conservation in Kenya.”

Purring nearly the entire time, Tango started out his visit hopping up on a long table and settling in with his back to the audience in charming indifference. Conservationists Dale Anderson and Wendy Wichelman-Debbas gave a lecture about the species, their plight, and the aims of their organization. I observed there is no shortage of times people will want to know the basic facts about the cheetah’s speed, and consistently gasp upon hearing: “68 mph, 26 feet at 3 strides per second.” As a fundraising initiative, guests could donate $20 per person to have their photo taken in one of the dealerships floor models with Tango in the frame, just off to the side.

As surreal an event as it was, the looks on the faces of not only, predictably, the children in the room, but of the adults too was obvious. Despite having his back turned to most of them, they were enthralled. (Eventually he turned around, taking interest in the small crowd.)

Going on safari isn’t a reality for many animal lovers, and traditional zoos with their bleak prisons break our hearts. The work of animals such as Tango, and he did purr loudly for the duration, is a vital piece in the puzzle of outreach and fundraising.

Right now, March, 2011, Wendy and Dale are in Kenya supervising the progress of the Soysambu Cheetah Center for Project Survival, giving out multi-vitamins for children in the nearby villages, and according to their Facebook updates, assisting in putting out arson brush fires in the region. Without the hard work of their fundraising these tangible conservation actions would not be possible.

Conservation can be grueling leg work, but teaching people, young and old, the nature of animals and the importance of sharing the land with them, is a vital aspect because saving an animal requires human energy.

  • Tango started life at the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Center in South Africa, and was raised from bottle age to eleven months with the conservationists at Cheetah Outreach, near Cape Town, who trained him to be the ambassador he is today. Cheetahs born in captivity cannot be returned to the wild, thus they become spokescats, if you will, for their wild cousins.  Project Survival’s Cat Haven takes the utmost care with the health and well-being of Tango, and his calm demeanor is reflection of the people who care for him, and the cause of protecting the future of the fastest animal on land.

Click any of the images below to view the gallery with captions.


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