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I try to inform, educate, and entertain about the natural world around us.  Prepare for Cheetah swatting, striking, wrestling, lion defecating, angry wild Cheetahs, screams, bullying, and a volunteer getting dominated by a Cheetah.  I wanted to show some raw video this time around.

The thumbnail photo is Gabriel; a very special Cheetah.  What a beautiful animal in the sun.  Just lights up as does his personality upon one of my first encounters with this interactive Cheetah.  Just like many domesticated cats, he prefers laying on you while grooming.  This is when I got a playful dewclaw poked into my forehead.  A tiny price to pay for an unbelievable experience.

I never knew Cheetahs could be so affectionate and interactive; almost like a dog. I was merely 1 of 100s of volunteers this Cheetah sees in a year.  I barely knew him at this point... literally days yet he trusted me like we were old friends.  I couldn't get within 10 feet of him before he starts purring.  Product of this facilities care & treatment in raising these animals.

For 2 months someone else took care of Gabriel and it was my turn.  Gabriel was starved for attention at this point.  It had been days since his regular keeper left the country.  He was purring heavily and walking circles around me; begging to groom me.  I barley got the camera in place with him climbing on me.

I was scared of Gabriel like everyone else but did allow him to climb on my shoulders to groom me.  Then I watched as his old caretaker laid on the ground and allowed Gabriel to climb on him.  Before he left I asked him what Gabriel did when he groomed him and he said "Ahh... he'll bite churr ear and lick ya" in an Australian accent.  I said to myself, "That's not so bad".  He didn't tell me what would happen next; maybe he didn't know.

The 1st few days was some male dominant behavior.  But our relationship blossomed afterward.  I became his favorite volunteer.  No one else would go this far with him.  He became very gentle, not wanting to break his new favorite toy.

He likes people, especially men because they are more willing to ruff-house with him; allowing him to groom you like this.  Also because another Cheetah would not allow him to do this.  He thinks volunteers are soft hearted siblings that don't bite back... the perfect playmate for a tame Cheetah.  He can do what he wants... stalk, play attack, play bite, nibble, and groom people that let him.  It's considered human enrichment and the best way to earn the animals trust for handling, care, and husbandry purposes.

Grooming sessions can last up to 20 minutes while your scalp comes out raw.  In this encounter, I ended up late for a meeting and forced him off of me... he got upset.  In subsequent encounters, I let him finish on his own and our relationship improved to the point of 100% trust.  He became a gentle giant kitten with me.

Due to scalp damage, I could only allow him to groom me once every two or three days like this... to heal up.  I don't see how they do this to each other.

The 2 second warning is a ears rolled back, wide-eyed stare telling you to back off.  They tire of the attention and want left alone.  It can happen at ANY time but mostly when you are petting or interacting with them.  Instead of verbally telling you, they do this stare warning and smack you if you don't listen.  It doesn't seem angry or personal because it happens while purring and while you're scratching or playing with them.  Half hour later they are ready for more attention.

They do the stares to each other as well.  The Cheetah getting the 'evil eye' normally walks away or lies down to avoid trouble.  It happens over food, toys, playing, & of course grooming.

I also meet a maneless lion named Juby,  a male lion without a mane.  People think he is a female.  Due to medical problems early on, he was neutered. The lack of testosterone in his system did not promote growth of a lion mane.  He is also VERY large, about Tiger size (400lbs).  He is calmer than intact males and is kept with his brother who is also neutered so they would be the same and not fight.

Juby immediately took a liking to me but not sure why.  They said he wanted to eat me and I was brave or dumb enough to allow him to sniff my hand.  Throughout the day, he would follow me the length of the fences while testing it and so I started running with him until I busted my knee when falling one time.  He just stood there (laughing) and waited until I got up and walked (limped) back with me.

Working at a wildlife center such as this, you don't come out unscathed, but you do come out with a better understanding and appreciation about the dedication and sacrifices people endure to help save endangered species. My fullest respect.

"Feeding The World--- One Animal At A Time"  Dolph C. Volker 


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