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Volunteering at Cheetah Experience in South Africa, I befriended Gabe, the most affectionate and interactive cat (wild or domesticated) I’ve ever met. The result of a wild animal raised by humans with love from birth. There is no other way to describe my relationship with him. I was loved by a Cheetah.
Being Gabe’s friend hurts because he enjoys giving affection more than receiving it, and it’s PAINFUL. His whole body is a weapon, from tongue to toe.
This cheetah was hand raised and quite tame and I was able to Completely earn his trust, and he mine, but there are always risks working with wild animals. The only injury I got the entire time I knew him were dew claws to my forehead, that & his scalp grooming which is like rubbing sandpaper on it; making it RAW! I picked scabs off my scalp 4 days after I left.
In these clips, I was saying goodbye and he was saying hello. You’ll see him climbing on my chest and grooming me (his favorite thing to do). All I had to do was lay in front of him and he’d get up off his lazy @ss and sit on me. Smothering me with a spooning body hug. Purring the entire time. Absolutely Adorable. It was an honor being accepted as a family member by his grooming. Now I know what prey animals see just before they die in the jaws of Cheetahs.
I watched Gabe lay on people before but never like he did me. Most all of the tame Cheetahs groom in some manner. I was shocked & scared when he 1st did it. I’d only known him for 4 days & he had a dangerous and dominating position over me & was a little rough. He became extremely gentle afterward. Hierarchy established. A bit of male dominance I think.
Gabriel’s old keeper left the country & it was my turn to care for him. Part of that is bonding. It had been days since Gabe groomed anyone and he was starved for attention. Before the keeper left I asked him what Gabe did when he let him groom him. He said he’d bite your ear & lick you, so I tried it. He preferred laying on me while grooming & would beg like a dog to do it; purring & circling around me until I got on his level. He’d light up when seeing me lay down & would come over and sit on me; licking my scalp and face, biting my nose, ears, and fingers.
Grooming sessions lasted anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, but my scalp would not. It got infected several times.
Gabe purrs almost constantly; a VERY contented cat. He purrs so much that his throat gets soar – it squeaks after awhile.
He loves to stalk, grab, nibble, & bite which scares most volunteers, but he never bites hard. They call him badboy Gabe but he’s just misunderstood. It’s understandably risky allowing him to do it. There’s nothing but your trust preventing him from snipping your nose or fingers off at 450PSI. It’s amazing to me how he knows to measure his bites, either when hand feeding him, biting my nose, or even when getting upset. No one taught him that.
Gabriel and I were great friends. I gave him all the right reasons to like me. Hand fed him, played with him, walked him, wrestled with him, pet him, relaxed with him, let him do what he wanted, and even slept next to him inside his enclose (which was a bed inside the owners home:) I never corrected him when ornery, just walked away. Never forced him to do anything; only asked. Left him alone when he tired of me. He really liked me & within days I was able to completely trust him no matter what he did. I’m just glad we met; he fulfilled a lifelong dream.
I was told that the 1st day that Gabriel likes men. The ambassador females dislike men, but one warmed up to me after seeing Gabe and I bond. Male bachelor Cheetahs are social in the wild & form coalitions with other male Cheetahs to establish territories and hunt together. Females are solitary. Gabe sees men as male Cheetahs & wants to bond.
The animals there truly live charmed lives. Human contact is part of their program. Animal husbandry exercises help in handling, diagnosis, treatment, and reproductive care for these animals as well providing better mental and physical stimulation. It’s the next best thing from being truly wild and free, but in some ways better. These animals are exceptionally cared for and for animal lovers, it’s remarkably rewarding.
There’s no describing in words the feeling of having an endangered Cheetah bond with you like this. Hearing and feeling the vibrations of a Cheetah purr is an amazing experience.
“Bonding With The The World— One Animal At A Time” Dolph C. Volker
Africa Safari Animals Safari Africa at www.edmacsafaris.com