Saturday, July 30, 2011


On an assignment to the San Diego Safari Park last week, we came face to face with a cheetah - literally!  The last exhibit we saw was this magnificent creature running at full speed.  Some facts first: there are three cheetahs at the park and each one has a live-in companion which is a large dog.  The cheetah we met was called Shylee and his companion was an Anatolian Sheepdog called Yeti.

Here, handler Missy, is walking the two of them - Yeti goes everywhere with Shylee, and in fact before the "run," Yeti has to go first to let Shylee know it's safe, then wait at the end to encourage him on.

Shylee weighs 125 pounds and as he exits his cage he hits 40 m.p.h. within four strides.

He chases a fluffy toy down 150 yards of fine green turf, as the toy is pulled on a rope attached to a Ford starter motor.  The toy disappears into the little box you can see here, while Shylee collects his reward - meat of course!

Halfway down the track, Shylee hit his racing stride and went past at
70 m.p.h.  You could hear his paws drumming on the turf.
Afterwards he was brought into a compound to meet people and pose for pictures.

Yeti, the dog stayed close to calm the big cat, and Missy the handler kept him occupied with treats and also a meat flavored popsicle to cool him down.

The Park don't guarantee more than one run, as that's the decision of the handler, but on the day we were there, Shylee seemed up for a repeat and Missy cooled him down in the shade for ten minutes before walking him back for another 70 m.p.h. dash.

In the wild, a cheetah can only charge for up to about 20 seconds, which is normally enough to catch its prey.  The tail is extremely long as at that speed he needs a rudder to help change direction when the prey dodges the charge.  Also unlike other cats, the claws, which are substantial, don't retract.

It was quite a visit to the park and we enjoyed it all.  However, the 6.4 seconds it took Shylee to reach the end of his run were by far the most memorable moments.  I could certainly see that again.

If you'd like to see cheetahs run click on this link:

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