Education and Responsible Conservation
At Cheetah Experience we serve to better the living conditions of our animals and provide them with the best possible care, as well as educate people about the best ways to protect and preserve endangered and threatened species.
We understand that the people that come to our project are driven by the motivation to support us in our efforts for animal welfare and protection. We respect that motivation, and we will always provide a safe environment for Visitors and participants in our
"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world"
We strive to educate our visitors and volunteers as best we can about the importance of conservation of our endangered and threatened species. To this end, we hope to inspire the change necessary to protect our wildlife that will benefit us all and the planet we all share.
We have a diverse range of endangered and threatened species at our project that all have a unique story to tell, and each species requires a different and often complex approach to conservation. In our educational tours, we try and convert the complex conservation information for each of our species into easy to understand information that is both educational and actionable.
An important part of our education program for visitors is to not only learn about the importance of protecting endangered and threatened species, but also educating visitors about strategies to conserve the wild populations of these animals. We do this in the hope that visitors and volunteers can take these strategies away and apply them in their own communities.
A contributing factor to the death of cheetahs in the wild is predator-livestock conflict. Some of the visitors to our project are local farmers or know local farmers, so we try to educate our visitors about various conservation management strategies for protecting the wild cheetah population. One of these programs is the Livestock Guarding Dog Program, which has had success in regions in Africa to assist farmers with predator conflict and that benefits both humans and cheetahs. Many farmers that visit us have never heard of this program, and some of them have even come back to our project and thanked us for informing them about this program!
At Cheetah Experience we do our best to keep our visitors, volunteers and interns up to date on new research and findings in wildlife conservation, and post these on our Blog site and social media pages for the wider community to read and share. We encourage all those interested to follow us on Social Media or Subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date on our animals and conservation information. Our belief is that sharing information with our supporters will help educate and encourage others to promote animal conservation among their friends, family and community.
In our volunteer program, we have education sessions where the staff teach volunteers about certain topics related to animal care, or we work together as a team to research certain topics related to animal care, such as new enrichment activities or enclosure improvements. Our hope is to have a repository of conservation and animal care information that volunteers, visitors and interns can access to help them learn about the best practices and research in conservation.
In the future, we hope to implement an online program offering interactive quizzes and additional information on the animals we have at our project, to help people learn after they leave Cheetah Experience!
At Cheetah Experience we work closely with a number of other projects in South Africa and globally to learn from best practice when it comes to animal husbandry and cheetah breeding. The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in Namibia is a world leader in cheetah conservation, research and breeding, and every year produces the International Cheetah Studbook. This studbook has the purpose of registering all cheetahs in the world held in both zoological and private facilities and providing information about existing animals by publishing the studbook contents, thus creating the preconditions for selecting breeding animals.
Since our cheetah breeding program started in 2011, we have been active contributors to this studbook, registering all of our cheetah’s information. As stated in the studbook, ‘As wild populations continue to decline, the preservation of the current levels of genetic diversity through reduction of off take from the wild populations, and through maximisation of captive breeding programs and establishment of it will become more and more important to maintain genome resource banks across the entire captive population.’ (Marker, 2016, p.14). At Cheetah Experience we closely monitor the recommendations of this studbook along with other leading cheetah research to help improve our breeding program and the global conservation of the cheetah.
New developments in science and technology have made it easier for our project to use a more scientific approach to cheetah conservation, including DNA testing and DNA mapping in a global database of cheetahs. Due to the continued decline in the wild cheetah populations, the studbook and our own independent research showed that it is vital to preserve the current levels of genetic diversity in the captive population of the cheetah. We work closely with South African Nature Conservation to complete this DNA testing with all our cheetahs, and this helps us in identifying suitable breeding partners for our cheetahs and diversifying the cheetah gene pool.
Some of the recommendations from the Studbook is forming cooperative programs with other conservation projects in the local region and overseas, to increase the success rate of breeding partners and diversify the gene pool of the captive cheetah population (Marker, 2016). Since our breeding program started in 2011, many of the cheetahs born at Cheetah Experience have gone on to be a part of other breeding projects in South Africa to diversify the gene pool and work towards our common goal of making the captive cheetah population self-sustaining. We believe in sharing our knowledge and experience in cheetah conservation, and many new local conservation projects have come to us for advice and job shadowing of our senior staff, to learn about the best practices for animal care and husbandry. We have also been involved in the process of releasing one of the cheetahs in our care into a protected reserve which is closely monitored by researchers.
Another recommendation in the studbook is for regional breeding programs to consider the occasional transfer of animals between global regions. These transfers will ensure that the current captive population’s bloodlines will be diversified between the regions (Marker, 2016). Cheetah Experience is currently in the final stages of applying for a CITES permit (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), which will allow us to work together with conservation projects globally in the diversification of the gene pool of captive cheetahs.
Another important aspect of our cheetah conservation is protecting cheetahs in captivity that have been bought or sold in the illegal wildlife trade and give them safe and caring homes. In January 2017, the UAE passed a law banning the keeping of “Exotic Pets” (including lions, tiger and cheetahs). We are currently investigating an opportunity to assist with the rescue of several cheetahs from a private owner in the Middle East.
Cub mortality is a big concern for captive cheetah breeding, and something that we work incredibly hard to stop. Unfortunately, there are a number of health complications that affect young cheetahs, and according to the International Cheetah Studbook, in 2015 the mortality rate was 25% for cheetah cubs born in captivity globally that were less than a month old (Marker, 2016). Because this percentage is so high globally, we have implemented special protocols to ensure that cubs born at our project survive into adulthood. For the first six weeks of a cheetah cubs life, staff monitor a webcam that is setup in the cheetah mothers den for 24 hours a day to ensure that there are no issues with the cubs, that their mum is producing milk and the cubs are feeding. For the cheetah mothers that staff have a strong bond with, staff can go into their den daily to weigh the cubs and ensure they are putting on weight. The cheetah mothers diet is also closely monitored by our vet to ensure that she is getting the right nutrition to provide milk for her cubs. We constantly try to improve our protocols and aftercare when raising cheetah cubs, and since 2014, we have had a 100% survival rate of all cheetah cubs born on this project. This is something we are incredibly proud of, and we work closely with other conservation projects to ensure that this survival rate can be replicated in our local region.
Our animal’s nutrition is also of great importance to us, so we have a close relationship with experts and leading researchers in predator nutrition in South Africa. Having these relationships and working with these veterinarians and researchers has helped us improve our animal’s overall health, and reduced the number of health issues related to food. We also work with specialist vets to ensure that our animals receive the best possible care if there are any medical issues, and the advice we receive from these specialists is applied to the aftercare of any of our animals that have medical issues.
Reference: Marker, Laurie, 2015 International Cheetah Studbook, Cheetah Conservation Fund, 2016.
The welfare of our animals will always come first. Happy animals show less signs of stress and illness and in turn this helps to ensure successful breeding with healthy cats. Education and research are also of paramount importance to ensure their future survival for generations to come. Our tours focus on educating the public on conservation and of the plight of the species.
Cheetah Experiences long term vision has always been to release some animals into a protected yet self-sustaining natural habitat where animals are still monitored by researchers and medical experts but live free. Being a non-profit organisation with no government funding, we rely on the generosity of the general public, volunteers and visitors to help us reach our goal.
How You Can Make A Difference
There a number of ways you can help support Cheetah Experience and our animals:
Adopting an Animal, either for yourself, or as a gift for your family or loved one.
One of the most important donations for our animals is their food.
The donation of fresh game and domestic livestock is greatly appreciated and very much needed. If you can help us, please call us on +27 72 905 3457
Make A Difference From Home
There are many ways to get involved and contribute to wildlife conservation. Some examples are listed below:
Research online petitions that you can get involved in that will make a difference to global wildlife conservation. They can be petitions related to issues in your local community, country or a global conservation effort (such as cheetah conservation). An example of this is the petition requesting that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) thoroughly investigates and reexamines the cheetah’s status, following new research in 2016 that showed an alarming decline in global cheetah numbers in the wild.
Create a wildlife conservation petition of your own!
Do research before visiting wildlife sanctuaries or parks that promote any forms of interaction with cubs, to ensure you aren't inadvertently funding the canned hunting industry
Get your family and friends involved! Social media is such a powerful tool for change, and simply sharing a conservation success story can impact so many lives in a positive way!