By: Cathryn Hilker, Founder of the Cincinnati Zoo’s Cat Ambassador Program
As so many cheetahs before her, Sara came to live on our Mason farm when she was 5 weeks old. We intended to raise her with an Anatolian shepherd dog so she could have a companion for herself but also a companion who could speak to the program of wildlife management in Namibia where these dogs are widely used for predator control. Captive cheetah are often raised with a dog, as they make excellent companions, but not always. As soon as this little cheetah named Sara saw our little Anatolian puppy the cat attacked the dog with such a ferocious attitude that I had to separate them. Their relationship became even worse over the next several days until I sent the puppy back and got a much bigger and older Anatolian dog. This change worked well and Sara and Alexa where lifelong companions. They did school shows, summer shows, tv appearances and much more until Alexa retired, leaving Sara to continue alone. Upstairs she went, downstairs, elevators, moving stairs. She did all that and more, never failing to do her part.
The joy of running is in the heart and the ancient memory of every cheetah. Sara was no different. At home in her first few weeks we only did short runs in her fenced in yard but the day came when I wanted to see how much Sara could do. I was there with her when the joy and the play of running suddenly turned serious for her. It was a Reds baseball cap that triggered her natural instinct to run with utter resolution. To chase, to catch, to hold. I could hardly get the cap away from her. Then she knew what running meant to the cheetah. It made her break her own record for speed, when the National Geographic filmed her, at age 11, running 61 mph. 100 meters in 5.95 seconds.
She will be remembered by thousands of school children who heard her loud purr or heard her nails clicking on the table top where she stayed during the program. My memories are imprinted in my heart and mind of a tiny brave little cheetah who grew up and turned into the elegant animal that the mature cheetah is. The claw marks from her tiny little claws when she was a cub remain on my bedspread to this day and the hole she chewed through my zoo jacket and the awkward job I did of sewing it up will remain there for the rest of my life.
We will miss Sara’s eyes, fixed on our eyes, always asking “what next”? Indeed Sara, what next, in your giant shadow of grace other cheetahs will follow your lead and our race to educate and tell your story so that your species can always be, waiting to answer “what next”.
39 thoughts on “Sara. Remembrance of a life well lived.”
Cathryn, You are the greatest! You and Sara have touched so many lives and memories. I still have the slow motion clip of Sara from National G. It moves me every time I watch it.
For all who have loved her,my heart goes out to you.I loved to see her run. I will think of her every time my greyhounds run wide open.
God sometimes gives us an opportunity to help preserve his most wonderful creation. You have seized that opportunity, educating Cincinnati and the world, and working in many ways to help cheetahs survive and flourish. We are thankful for your life’s work, and for sharing Sara and many other magnificent felines so generously with us.
Who do we need to motivate, if it hasn’t started already, to rename to cat grotto after Sara? More than a few times I saw her run, and saw her out as the catbassador. It’s always sad to lose an animal that has a connection to our Zoo. So let’s honor her in a great way.
Lovely Testimonial to a lovely creature
Such a graceful tribute to a graceful creature and friend. Cats, big and small, have an uncanny way of latching onto our hearts and even when they pass on to their next adventure, a part of them stays with us.
Thank you for all you’ve done to help preserve this beloved species! My thoughts go out to you and the rest of the zoo family.
A beautiful tribute for a precious friend. Many thanks, Cathryn for
all you have been and have done for the Zoo. Sara will be always
Catherine, I am so sorry to hear this. Sara is now running free with Angel. Sending my love.
Cathryn, what a beautiful tribute to a beautiful animal. Thank you for all the great work that you have done to help cheetahs. Sara will truly be missed. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.
You have made such impressions on those who have encountered you and the lucky cheetahs you have cared for. I love reading the book about Angel to my students and teaching them to love and care for all animals.
What a wonderful tribute to a beautiful animal! Thank you for sharing her story with us. I am very sorry for your loss. The photo with her looking back over her shoulder is breathtaking. What a gorgeous creature.
Thank you for helping Sara touch the lives of so many. The Cat Ambassador program at the Cincinnati Zoo stands tall and proud, just like Cathryn and the beautiful creatures they serve and protect.
Thank you for the wonderful contribution you have made. The photograph Jill Halpin made was so beautiful. Sara was well loved.
A great ambassador
For most ordinary humans, the loss of loved ones is heartbreaking.\
You, Cathryn, are no ordinary human being, so with this loss of a beloved and magnificent animal is devastating. Your awesome tribute came from your heart where you will carry Sara always.
Cathryn, what a life you have lived with all of the beautiful cats placed in your care. What a wonderful tribute to Sara. Cheetahs are such magnificent animals and you taught me to not only appreciate them, but love them. Watching this beautiful creature run was a sight one never tired of seeing. Her presence had such an impact on thousands of people. No one could ask for a finer epitaph that that, my friend. I am so sorry for your loss.
I am heartbroken because she was such a magnificient cheetah. I saw her up close at an educational program and of course, saw her run. She will be missed and I hope she RIP!
We were all blessed to have seen Sara (Sahara) occasionally strolling around the zoo with Alexa or to have watched her run so beautifully. My heart goes out to all of her keepers and especially to you Cathryn for this loss. The news has been heartbreaking to me; I can only imagine how hard this has been for you. What a wonderful ambassador she has been to the world showing just how terrible it would be to lose cheetahs. Thank you for your hard work to ensure this never happens.
I am so sorry to hear about the passing of Sarah. I so enjoyed meeting her and watching her mature over the years. The passing of a best friend is always so difficult, but you two educated and enchanted thousands regarding the plight of the cheetah population. Know that you are in my thoughts and prayers as you carry on without her physically by your side. When your time comes there will be one more masked beauty waiting for you on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. RIP Sarah!!!
Cathryn, exquisitely written. Brought tears to my eyes!