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”.
January 22, 2016 38 Comments
Today on the 10th anniversary of Endangered Species Day, the Zoo joins the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) and hundreds of other AZA-accredited institutions to raise awareness of their efforts to save animals from extinction and launch AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE).
For decades, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums have been leaders in species survival, and are already working to restore more than 30 species to healthy wild populations, including the American bison, the California condor and a variety of aquatic species.
AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction combines the power of zoo and aquarium visitors with the resources and collective expertise of AZA-accredited institutions and partners to save animals from extinction. Together we are working on saving the most vulnerable wildlife species from extinction and protecting them for future generations. Through SAFE, these institutions will convene scientists and stakeholders globally to identify the factors threatening species, develop Conservation Action Plans, collect new resources and engage the public.
In 2015, SAFE will focus on 10 species and then add an additional 10 species each year for the next 10 years. The inaugural 10 species include: African penguin, Asian elephants, black rhinoceros, cheetah, gorilla, sea turtles, vaquita, sharks and rays, Western pond turtle and whooping crane.
Five of those first 10 species are ones that we care for and display here in Cincinnati, and with which we are involved in conservation efforts.
- We help save African penguins by supporting the efforts of SANCCOB (Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds), a leading marine organization that rescues and rehabilitates ill, injured or abandoned African penguins among other threatened seabirds.
- We support Asian elephant conservation in the wild through the International Elephant Foundation. Here at the Zoo, scientists at our Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) are working with partners to develop a field-friendly technique for collecting and cryopreserving Asian elephant semen to use in artificial insemination.
- We support a community education project in Uganda that aims to reintroduce black and white rhinos to their original range in the country.
- In addition to being a leader in captive cheetah breeding, the Zoo has supported and participated in many cheetah conservation field projects in Africa over the years. Also, our Cat Ambassador Program educates more than 150,000 people a year about cheetahs through on-site encounters and school outreach programs.
- Well known for our breeding success with gorillas, the Zoo also supports the longest-running field study of western lowland gorillas in the wild, the Mbeli Bai study in the Republic of Congo.
Help Us Save Animals from Extinction
One of the easiest conservation actions you can take is to visit the Zoo! Doing so directly supports the collaborative efforts of hundreds of researchers, field conservationists and scientists from AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums working to save animals from extinction. So come on out to the Zoo this summer and show your support!
May 15, 2015 2 Comments
Today, on International Cheetah Day, we celebrate the fastest animal on land by introducing you to our ambassador cheetahs and how they help spread awareness about cheetah conservation.
Our cheetah ambassadors work with their trainers at the Cat Ambassador Program (CAP), educating more than 150,000 people a year about the importance of cheetahs and other wild cat predators. From April to October, Zoo guests can witness cheetahs running and other wild cats performing natural behaviors during Cheetah Encounter shows. During the school year, CAP staff introduces students to cheetahs and small wild cats during assembly programs.
At 14 years old, Sara is our most experienced ambassador and still enjoys running during shows. In fact, she is the “fastest cheetah in captivity” as she was clocked running 100 meters in 5.95 seconds last summer during a National Geographic photo shoot. Watch the behind-the-scenes video here.
Born at the DeWildt Breeding Center in South Africa in 2004, Bravo and Chance came to us when they were six months old. They remain a coalition here, as brother cheetahs often stick together in the wild, and are our only cheetahs housed together. They spend more time in our Africa exhibit yard than the other cheetahs.
Tommy T was born at the Zoo’s off-site Cheetah Breeding Facility in 2008 and is named after Tom Tenhundfeld, the lead keeper at the facility. He was raised with Pow Wow (the dog), and was featured in the November 2012 issue of National Geographic Magazine. He even made the cover!
Nia Faye was also born at our Breeding Facility in 2009. We affectionately call her our “wild child”. She took a lot of work, but she is a great ambassador and is rivaling Sara in speed.
Born in 2012, Savanna is our youngest ambassador. She was the cheetah featured with Zoo Director, Thane Maynard, on the Today Show to promote our partnership with National Geographic Magazine. Watch the video here.
Supporting Cheetah Conservation
In addition to spreading awareness, the CAP also collects donations for The Angel Fund to support cheetah conservation. For 12 years, Cat Ambassador Program founder Cathryn Hilker and a cheetah named Angel worked together to educate people about cheetahs. Established in Angel’s memory in 1992, The Angel Fund raises funds to support a variety of cheetah conservation projects committed to saving cheetahs both in captivity and in the wild. Over the years, the Zoo and The Angel Fund has supported and participated in many cheetah conservation field projects, including but not limited to the following programs.
- Cheetah Outreach is a community-based education program based in South Africa that conducts school presentations with ambassador cheetahs as well as teacher workshops. Cheetah Outreach also breeds Anatolian shepherd dogs and places them on South African farms to guard livestock in an effort to reduce conflict between farmers and predators.
- The Ruaha Carnivore Project works with local communities to help develop effective conservation strategies for large carnivores in Tanzania. The mission is being achieved through targeted research and monitoring, mitigation of threats, mentorship, training and community outreach.
- Cheetah Conservation Botswana aims to preserve the nation’s cheetah population through scientific research, community outreach and education, working with rural communities to promote coexistence with Botswana’s rich diversity of predator species.
A Leader in Cheetah Breeding
With inspiration and support from The Angel Fund, the Zoo also has become a leader in captive cheetah breeding. Since 2002, 41 cubs have been produced at the Zoo’s off-site Cheetah Breeding Facility in Clermont County. The Zoo is one of nine AZA-accredited institutions that participate in a cheetah Breeding Center Coalition (BCC). Working closely with the Cheetah Species Survival Plan, the BCC’s goal is to create a sustainable cheetah population that will prevent extinction of the world’s fastest land animal.
You Can Help
Want to help us save cheetahs? Consider donating to The Angel Fund!
December 4, 2014 1 Comment