Catching up with cheetahs at the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre

Posted by Clare Appleyard on 2 August 2011

Sometimes, you just have to take matters into your own hands. Having lived in South Africa for nearly 29 years and still not having seen a cheetah or leopard in the wild, I’m starting to get a little disillusioned. As a keen photographer, not only do I need to find the spotted cats, but I won’t be satisfied until I take some great pictures of them.

However, unless Lion Sands, Londolozi or Tinga offer me a sponsored blog trip (yes, unsubtle, I know), it’s unlikely that I’ll get to see these cats in their natural habit so I resorted to the next best thing – a trip to the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre, at De Wildt.

Situated on the R513, De Wildt is a mere 15 minutes from Hartbeespoort and an hour from Sandton and Johannesburg. Established in 1971, the centre’s mission is to ensure the long term survival of the cheetah and African Wild Dog, amongst other animals.

Visiting family from England provided us with a perfect excuse to visit the Cheetah Centre and at 8am one morning we found ourselves excitedly lined up behind a rickety reed fence to watch ‘The Cheetah Run’. We would watch three cheetahs run, and our guide jokingly pointed out that it would probably only be on the last run that we would have figured out the timing on our cameras to capture more than just the tip of a cheetah tail!

Each of the three cheetahs was released to chase a high-speed lure and the guides weren’t kidding when they said that cheetahs moved fast.  It really was a case of blink and you would have missed the cheetah.

After the cheetah run, visitors to the centre are presented with an opportunity to have their photograph taken with one of the ‘Cheetah Ambassadors’ before a three-hour guided tour of the centre. It was during this part of the tour that we got to learn much about the excellent work that is done at the centre.

From the rehabilitation of injured vultures to the breeding of African wild dogs, the centre does fantastic work. During our tour we got to see honey badgers, caracals, African wild cats (which look remarkably similar to domestic cats), brown hyenas and of course cheetahs. Particularly spectacular are the King cheetahs, a result of a rare genetic mutation which leads to a striking fur pattern.

As part of the tour we experienced being ‘hunted’ by a pack of African wild dogs, a particularly noisy, but enjoyable experience. We were saddened to learn that a number of misconceptions regarding African Wild Dogs are preventing the bred dogs from being released back into the wild.

The final high point of the tour had us enter the cheetah enclosure, in our game-viewing vehicles, allowing us to get very close to 4 juvenile cheetahs.  It was fascinating to be able to see these majestic animals in such proximity – we even heard them purring! The photographic opportunities were fantastic and we all went home thrilled with our cheetah experience.

Contact Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre at De Wildt
Tel 012-504-9906
Email [email protected]

Check out more blogs on wildlife sanctuaries and big cat rehabilitation.

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