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by Sine Thieme, a writer and mother of four who is new to South Africa and busy chronicling her experiences on her blog, Joburg Expat.

An excellent half-day family excursion from Joburg is a visit at the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre near Hartbeespoort Dam. I recently toured it with my kids, and 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 exactly bring him home, but instead paid a “silver level” adoption to 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. If you get there at 8:00 in the morning, you can also watch the cheetahs run.

Here are some of the facts we learned:

  • 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
  • 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 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,” than that of 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!

Here’s valiant our adopted cheetah:

If you’re interested in a tour of the De Wildt, you should call ahead (012 504 9906) or go online to make a booking.

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