She sat motionless, quiet. Her breathing was almost undetectable. Was sleeping? The sky was white in the summer heat, but the wooden pergola provided some shade. Suddenly she stirred on the little chair she was sitting on and moved her grip on the cheetah’s leash. The handler was tired and Enigma equally so. We kneeled down about half a meter from the sprawling animal. Unperturbed by our presence, he merely lifted his head a little and opened one eye.
Cheetahs, unlike leopards, are not aggressive by nature and Enigma was happy with humans touching and stroking him. He is one of Cheetah Outreach’s cheetah ambassadors and often visits schools and corporations for educational shows. Cheetah Outreach in Somerset West raises cheetahs and breeds Anatolian sheepdogs. They are creating awareness about animal conservation and offers animal encounters so guests can observe these animals from up close. In addition to cheetahs, the facility also has meerkats, bat-eared foxes, jackals and servals.
The facility is a expansive site near the N2 in Somerset West. The reception, video room and curio shop is located in a Sir Herbert Baker-designed house while the animals are located in huge enclosures with 5m high wire fences. A video is shown prior to the tour of the facility. Informative yet a little boring, it answered only some of the questions I had, but the enthusiastic volunteer managed to help with other questions.
We walked along the fences and were showed nothing in particular. ‘There is Baggins, one of our servals,’ the volunteer pointed to a clump of grass. ‘And in this enclosure we have meerkats pointing to some holes and warrens where a few noses were poking out. We decided on a cheetah encounter to at least see some animals. After buying a ticket, we were taken to a cage. There we waited for another volunteer to take us to the cheetah enclosure. ‘Hand over your cameras,’ she demanded. ‘I will take the pictures.’ So we did.
Reaching the enclosure, we again waited to see if Enigma was calm – lying down. Kneeling down next to him, we waited instructions. ‘One at a time, stay on your hunches and stroke him with a flat hand, ‘ came the orders. His fur was coarse, not as soft and fluffy as I had thought. Some ripples coursed over his flanks as I stroked him and he purred like a baby helicopter, but a whole lot of nothing happened in the 20 minutes we spent with him. Still, somehow I expected more?
Apart from meeting cheetahs, you could also spend time with a bat eared fox or a meerkat and see cheetahs racing. Visit in the morning around 10:00 to see animals at their most active. Costs range from R10 for an adult entry to R130 for a cheetah encounter and R3000 for a private cheetah run (max 6 pax). Cash only. Cheetah Outreach is easy to find, has safe parking and is a good way to spend a few hours.