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MAURITIUS DISCOVERY
» 01 Mar 2008
MEET THE CHEETAHS

Cheetahs have existed on earth for at least 3 ½ to 4 million years - long before any of the other big cats that are alive today. Swift, sleek and solitary, cheetahs have fascinated Man since time immemorial. This fabulous feline has been associated to the Greek God Dionysus and glorified in animated series such as Thunder Cats.  Visitors in Mauritius are privileged; they are offered the unique opportunity not only to admire but also to come in close contact with this rare species.

From the Wild Things Animal Park in Polokwane (South Africa), four hand-reared cheetah cubs have arrived to the Casela Bird Park in Mauritius. Situated in the rugged district of Black River, the park (which covers some 25 acres) is the perfect home for the newcomers. The latter have been moved to Mauritius as part of a breeding program related to wildlife rehabilitation. The area’s dry and warm environment is most appropriate for the cubs; they have adapted very well to their new location and the joy to be here is reflected in their lively play and contented purrs.

The 4 ½ month old baby cheetahs deepen the intimate link that Mauritius shares with Africa. Their very names carry us to the wild plains of the great continent. Bwana (‘the boss’) is one of the males and he is the biggest of the set. His proud gait and readiness to be in the limelight will immediately captivate one’s attention. But Impi, an endearing female (whose name means ‘warrior’ in Zulu) will not be outdone. She is the inquisitive one, intrepid and eager to make new discoveries. Tokwe and Sabi (male and female respectively) have been named after two magnificent rivers flowing in Zimbabwe. Together they form a fascinating little group which will charm both children and adults. The cubs can be distinguished thanks to the different colours of their coat; Impi, for example, is a blond while Sabi is darker.

It is a pleasure to see how the promoters communicate with the cubs; they are lovingly pampered but at the same time taught how to behave with human beings. Like all cats, they love to run after play balls (do you mean run, play balls or ‘run after play balls’?), climb on tree trunks and cling resolutely to one’s feet, but it’s all for fun. In fact, cheetahs are not dangerous to humans and in the wild they prefer to use the flight versus the fight response. The cubs at Casela still enjoy being bottle-fed, but their carnivorous instincts are also satisfied by generous meaty meals. Visitors may watch them from afar or join them in their games. They allow themselves to be doted upon and entertain guests with their remarkable antics.  However, despite their childlike behaviour, they manage to make one aware of their nature as predators, of their power and magnificence. We behold these in their sharp eyes and confident strides.  Indeed, a moment spent in their company is enough to pull the visitor away from his day-to-day life amidst civilization and feel transported to the wild plains of Africa, free to experience something authentic and primal.

The directors of Safari Adventures have initiated this program at Casela as they would like us to become aware of the fact that the cheetah is an endangered species requiring urgent attention. This land mammal is the fastest one on earth and it can reach a speed of up to 120km/h. As it runs, only one foot at a time touches the ground. Its superb eyesight is designed to spot distant prey and allow diurnal hunting. Unfortunately, this marvel of evolution is losing its race for survival. Once a common animal found on five continents, the cheetah is now on the border of extinction. This is principally due to shrinking habitat, its own loss of genetic variation, conflicts with humans, and a high rate of cub mortality.

The promoters at Casela Bird Park aim at educating locals as well as foreigners: they would like us to see for ourselves how these mammals are and how they behave. Interacting with the cubs awakens the visitor to the urgency of the moment and makes him realize how important it is to protect this imperiled species. After a visit to the park, one would not be able to bear the thought of these animals disappearing forever.

Interacting with the baby cheetahs is a unique experience which should not be missed. It immerses one in the world of the wild and stirs inexplicably deep emotions which will never be forgotten.

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