For some reason we volunteers think that perhaps we can beat the cheetahs at their own sport- running. In the late afternoon, we took Abby and Apollo, the 6 month old cheetah cubs, out for a jaunt around the lawn. In doing so, we hope to eventually introduce these two youngsters to Bibi and Fiela- the foundresses of Cheetah Experience and the rulers of enclosure camp 1. On this particular afternoon, we took along a shabby bottle filled with rocks, slightly dented and scratched from years of play, but still tigthly bound to a long rope. Once the cheetahs were snapped into their harnesses, each with a volunteer at the other end, I took off running with the bottle. As the two other volunteers pleaded with me that I not run so fast, I took the opportunity to let the cheetahs take the volunteers on a small obstacle course around the lawn. As we raced around, two other curious beings- complete with tubby tummies, ninja knife claws, and ears 5 times too big for their bodies- decided to participate in the game. Before I knew it, I had two nearly full grown cheetahs, two 10 week old lion cubs, and two bitter volunteers racing after me. The lions soon replaced the bottle as the cheetahs’ main objects of interest. As the lions tried desperately to pick up the speed and catch the bottle, the cheetahs- for whom running fast was no big issue- took it upon themselves to trip the lions as best they could. Chloe, the jack russel mix pup who has become my sleeping companion, decided that a game was not complete without some canine in the mix. Pretty soon, Aries- the 7 week old tiger- came plodding along to add a little Asia to the festivities. One by one, individuals dropped from the pack behind me, and we all flopped down to act like cats and start lazing around! We snapped a few photos with our animal loved ones, and enjoyed the last rays of sun before cubs were trotted back to their evening residencies.
Sometimes on busy days at the farm, you forget that you live in the best place on earth, where lions, cheetahs, tigers, dogs, and humans forget species’ boundaries. Where language barriers, mobility factors, age diferences, and fuzziness levels make no difference whatsoever. But then there are those afternoons, after busy mornings ensuring everyone is safe and fed, that we are reminded of how amazing it is that we get to run free together, all honored by the world with this incredible opportunity to play and run under the African sun with the beautiful animals of all sizes that we love from the most sacred parts of our hearts.