LAST week’s incident at Emdoneni Lodge and Cheetah Project in which a New Zealand teen had a closer-than-expected encounter with a cheetah, has shone a light on animal interaction, with critics calling for a total banning across South Africa.
Hot on the heels of the Emdoneni incident, a three-year-old child was on Saturday killed by a cheetah on the Free State farm of well known conservationist and filmmaker, John Varty.
Both of these incidents follow the 2015 closure to the public of KwaCheetah, a rehabilitation centre within the Nambiti Game Conservancy near Ladysmith.
Although born in captivity and hand-reared, these animals are wild at heart, with instinctively defensive behaviour when feeling threatened.
And a group of people walking towards a cheetah, or any other animal, will make it feel threatened as they gradually push the animal towards the fence line of its enclosure.
International tourists are simply not equipped with the knowledge of wild animal behaviour, no matter how many National Geographic programmes they watch.
As South Africans, we instinctively know not to make ourselves small near a wild animal, even one that has been bred in captivity.
It is a dominance thing and, by making ourselves smaller than the animal, we are telling it we are submissive.
While there may be cause for serious debate about the ethics of ‘wild’ animal interaction, it is the behind-the-scenes breeding programme that is absolutely vital to the future of the cheetah.
Many people do not appreciate this, nor do they appreciate the animal’s status.
Listed on CITES appendix 1, the cheetah is threatened with extinction.
So these sanctuaries do not simply breed cheetah for the public’s amusement, there is a serious need for them across South Africa.
And not only do they breed cheetah for release onto game reserves, but they also rehabilitate injured cheetah.
Some are successfully rehabilitated and can be re-released, while others are rehabilitated but can never be re-released. It is these that are often used in breeding programmes.
Owing to much red tape, there is no money in conservation, but running costs are high.
On this note, it is thought that animal interaction tours began as a means for sanctuaries to both educate the public on our beautiful wildlife and earn a little extra money.
So, before jumping on the ‘close all petting parks’ bandwagon, perhaps more people should educate themselves on the conservation aspect of such sanctuaries.
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