Animal Diaries Archive
Working with Cheetahs is no Walk in the Park
18 January 2008
Hi, I’m Nat and I have been working with the Cheetahs for 4 months now. You have probably been monitoring my progress within the department by reading these articles, but I am here to tell you, that it has been no walk in the park.Firstly, talk about a tough interview.
Imagine a board of four cheetahs - there was nothing I really could do to sell myself. If I had of given them my resume, they would have just ripped it up. If I had of spoken about my previous experience, and rambled on about my passion for Cheetahs, they would have just looked at me, as if to say “Would you please, BE QUIET!” All I could do was be myself and hope that they liked me, and lucky for me they did.
I have learnt that it’s not just as simple as cleaning an enclosure, and playing with a cheetah. I always have to be aware of the messages I unconsciously send to the cats. This is a crucial stage of establishing a relationship with our cheetahs. I have found just how little we realize how much animals read into our behavior. They don’t communicate to each other by writing or speaking words. Can you imagine what it would be like if we didn’t use speech, how much you would have to focus on a person’s body language. We do it now, but it’s not the sole thing we are observing. With cheetahs and most other animals, that is what they are focusing on all the time. Reading our behavior is what they do best, so the message I want to be sending is that I am not a threat, but a caring and fun person. It is important that I don’t do anything really out of the ordinary which they are not used to because it might send the wrong message.
Of course it goes both ways. I have to learn to read the cheetahs behavior too. I have to know when they want space, or some love. This is such a difficult process and only with time will I really ever get to know each cheetah personally. It is similar to when you meet someone new and you enjoy each others company, the relationship builds, and you learn how to read one another the more time you spend together. After four months I am already getting a grasp on each cheetah’s personality. They are all individuals, and have their different quirks that I just love about them.
We take our cheetahs for walks within the zoo, and I am learning what hazards I have to watch out for, as well as reading the cat properly. This is to ensure that the walk remains positive and enriching for the cats. And although this sounds pretty basic or even easy, I ensure you its not. There is so much to learn when it comes to walking a cheetah - it is nothing like walking a dog! A lot comes down to mastering my first two paragraphs I spoke about, plus a whole lot more. So until I learn more on that subject, Ill just leave it to the experts, and keep up my entertaining skills with the patrons.Be sure to watch out for my articles in the future to find out what it is like to start working in the Big Cat Department.
So come and see us at Australia Zoo on one of our ‘Cheeky Cheetah Walks’ and be sure to fire all sorts of questions at me, to test my knowledge.
Our Amazing Cheetahs
The cheetah has a slender, elongated body supported on tall, thin legs with blunt semi-retractable claws and a flattened rudder-like tail that measures half ...more
On display in Africa