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Sara. Remembrance of a life well lived.

By: Cathryn Hilker, Founder of the Cincinnati Zoo’s Cat Ambassador Program

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Cathryn and Sara in 2000

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.

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Sara and her companion Lexi

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.

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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.

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photo by Jill Halpin

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

Dog Log #6 – Tribute to Brahma

Brahma

Beautiful Brahma

It is with a heavy heart that I write this first part of my blog. Brahma’s sudden and unexpected passing has saddened all of the Africa keepers. He was a very special dog that achieved great things in the short amount of time we were given with him. Brahma’s grumpy old man demeanor (or that’s what it seemed like to me) was balanced out by his exceptional skills as a father and provider. The care he gave Imara and his offspring was amazing to watch and rare for alpha male dogs in the States. During this difficult time, I just personally wanted to thank all of you for the positive thoughts and the kind words that have been expressed to us. The other Africa keepers and I truly appreciate the support.

Brahma and Imara

Brahma and Imara

 

Brahma guides the pups

Brahma guides the pups

In spite of the short journey we had with Brahma, we still have a long way to go with the 10 beautiful young ones he and Imara created. The future is a bit uncertain at this point. We will manage the pack for the most part the same. Imara has taken this all in stride. The first couple of days after the loss of Brahma, I would catch her looking for him. I think she realizes what has happened, but that she still has a job to do and guiding her puppies into adulthood is her number one priority. Luckily for us, Imara is young and resilient. At about 35 lbs each, the pups are becoming a handful, but so far she is doing a great job. She is definitely still keeping them in line which you will often see on exhibit. Imara is not afraid to teach them a lesson, which is important since she is solo now.

2015-04-08 Imara Pups

Imara leads on

We would not bring in another male at this time. The Species Survival Plan (SSP) for African painted dogs meets this fall and will decide which dogs go (or stay) where. For now, we will continue to enjoy Imara and the pups as they get bigger and bigger. I am secretly hoping one of the boys has been gifted with Brahma’s personality. So come on out and enjoy Brahma’s legacy and watch them change right before our eyes.

 

May 25, 2015   11 Comments

Baby Gorilla Mondika – Keeper Update

Asha plays airplane with baby Mondika

Asha plays airplane with baby Mondika (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Mondika is turning one in August, and she continues to do wonderfully within her family group! It is extremely important for a young gorilla to grow up in their family group to learn how to be a gorilla. As she is growing more aware, she is learning the social dynamic of her family by hearing vocalizations, seeing interactions between members and even by smelling different smells. Asha is her primary teacher and has been a wonderful mother, being very attentive and protective of Mondika (Mona). Asha enjoys grooming and playing with Mona and lately is allowing Mona to become more independent by venturing off some, but not out of reach at this point.

Mondika's Dad, Jomo, is usually close by.

Mondika’s Dad, Jomo, is usually close by. Photo by Jeff McCurry

Mona is also very interested in learning from other members within her family like her father, Jomo. Jomo is not only an excellent silverback, he is also a wonderful dad. Mona is Jomo’s second child and continues to prove himself. He is reserved, respectful and gentle with Asha and Mona. Mona is very interested in him and has been seen on several occasions touching, climbing and smelling him. Jomo sits very still and enjoys every minute. As Mona grows more playful and independent she will most likely spend more time with Jomo.

Asha & Mondika (Mona) - Photo by Jeff McCurry

Asha & Mondika (Mona) – Photo by Jeff McCurry

Physically she is also progressing well as a young gorilla. She is still small as gorillas grow slowly like humans do. They are considered babies until they are three years old. Therefore, she spends most of her time on mom, but every day she is growing more independent. As a result, she has learned to knuckle walk and climb and enjoys hanging upside down. She has also developed a white dot on her rear end that all gorilla babies do. They are not born with this white dot and it does disappears as they get older. This dot allows their mom to see them more easily in the dense dark forests in the wild as they start to venture off.

The white dot on Mona's rear. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

The white dot on Mona’s rear. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Mona is curious and aware of her surroundings and food. She now has enough teeth to explore foods that mom eats. She has a sweet tooth, like most primates, and enjoys bananas and grapes the most. However, she still nurses frequently and her mothers milk is her main source of nutrition at this age. Mona will continue to become more adventurous and playful, and her personality will become even more apparent as she continues to grow within her family group. As keepers we are excited to see her develop socially and physically.

 

May 20, 2015   4 Comments