Even before I donned safari duds and the moniker Kelly Africanus I loved big cats. Actually I like the small ones too. Leopard, lion, lynx or house cat - I'll take 'em all. I like to think that somewhere in an alternate universe I may even be Cat Woman. Fighting crime in a bad-ass leather jumpsuit by night, snuggling with my feline friends by day.
While not being able to decide my most beloved cat amongst the many species hardly qualifies as a crisis of personality, I did hope that my travels might help crystallize my preference and that I'd return home with a favorite cat firmly planted in my psyche. A spirit guide that could lead me on some kind of post-trip vision quest.
Or maybe just a favorite figure for a groovy new t-shirt.
Far be it from me to create a false sense of suspense but I'll tell you now that I WON'T be finishing this blog post by naming my new-found, best-loved feline. I will, however, take the opportunity to muse over the cheetah.
Here's one standing bloody-mouthed over her fresh kill on the Serengeti.
With her cubs nearby! Ack! I nearly passed out with the desire to grab one and run. So fluffy! So cute!
Cheetahs...nature's fastest, sure, we all know that. But did you know they have a penchant for flip-flops? I learned that salient fact at Cheetah Park in Namibia just prior to being let in to the compound wearing flip-flops to pet their three cheetahs. That's right people, I said PET CHEETAHS!
Cheetah Park is a family farm that moved from raising cattle to cheetah conservation over the years. They have three tame cheetahs that live with them and behave just like house cats, including the occasional tussle with their Jack Russell (gotta love a small dog with a big dog attitude.)
He (the Jack Russell) even thinks he is the guard dog. Isn't that cute?
But let's get back to cheetahs. They are, in a word, amazing.
In addition to having the world's coolest pets, Cheetah Park also rescues wild cheetahs from being killed by other farmers when one of them (the cheetahs not the farmers) has been a very bad boy and killed some livestock. The two brothers who own and operate Cheetah Park trap the cat instead and bring it back to live a relatively-close-to-wild life on their acreage. As the population density of cheetahs on their land is higher than normal and building and maintaining a collection of prey animals is cost prohibitive, these fellas take their trucks out most evenings and feed the wild bunch whatever meaty morsels they have laying around.
If you are staying at their campgrounds, for a small fee you can stand in the bed of their pickup while they toss donkey steaks at the crowd of twenty or so cheetahs that come melting out of the dusk the minute the gates open. These guys (the cheetahs, not the farmers) prowl and stalk and flow and fade in and out of the bush...following the truck, eager for dinner. As a passenger, you feel a bit like dinner and hope they don't mistake you as such. It is as unnerving as it is awe inspiring.
After the guys figure we've all had enough photo opportunities they start tossing the meat out. As each piece is thrown, a little skirmish erupts among the cats while they figure out who gets it. The winner takes his loot and runs while the rest growl and yip waiting for the next hunk. And all this is happening mere feet from where you stand in an open truck bed, drink in hand.
Oh yeah, the campsite has a bar too, it's a damn cool place. So if you ever find yourself in Namibia...drop in and see if the cheetah is your favorite cat.