After three days of wine tasting in Stellenbosch, we traveled 2 hours north to Inverdoorn, a private game reserve on the edge of the Little Karoo desert. This reserve has been around for almost 20 years.
Inverdoorn has a Cheetah Rehabilitation Center that started up a couple of years ago. There are 15 -20 cheetahs. They are primarily rescued from breeders and people who owned them as pets. They have been subject to malnourishment and other ill treatment.
Inverdoorn has also brought in other somewhat healthier cheetahs for breeding purposes. In general, cheetahs have terrible genetics due to extensive inbreeding 50,000 years ago. For this reason, it is beneficial to bring cheetahs together from different regions for breeding.
|Two cheetahs are better than one, unless you’re playing poker|
Once they have been rehabilitated, the cheetahs are released in the wild, in an area adjacent to the game reserve. Until that time, they are nurtured on site, with much of their food provided by the reserve. The cheetahs will be monitored by Inverdoorn after they are released, and if successful in this stage they may progress to being relocated in other areas.
We heard the specific stories of two of the more damaged cheetahs. Velvet has a kinked tail because she was kept in a bathroom and her tail got caught in the door. Cheetahs use their tails for direction control and braking, so without a fully functional tail a cheetah can't hunt. So Velvet will remain at the reserve.
|Prrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr……Velvet’s got her motor running|
Iziba was a house pet, and was fed an inadequate diet of cat food. She weighed only 10 kg (22 lbs) when she came to Inverdoorn. She has now doubled her weight, but an adult female cheetah should weigh closer to 30 kg (~ 65 lbs).
|In South African restaurants, cheetahs are allowed on the table|
|Something’s got Iziba’s attention, probably a child|
Cheetahs can only conceive if a male keeps its body temperature below 100F and the female keeps its body temperature above 104F. At Inverdoorn, female cheetahs are exercised vigorously in preparation for a mating opportunity. This can be accomplished by running them down a long dirt track. We got to observe this at sunset on the first evening, from a vantage point atop a nearby wall.
Sarah took a video of the cheetah running down the track. We cannot upload it here, but we will try to separately circulate it later. By the way, some of these rehabbing cheetahs are really slow. They can only run at 80 - 90 kph (50 mph) vs. the usual 120 kph (70 mph).
|Mentally preparing for track practice|
Although Iziba and Velvet look cute and will interact with the game reserve guests like us, this can only be done in the presence of the guides. Cheetahs do not particularly like small children, whom they view as play toys. They still have their wild animal instincts, not to mention penetrating eyes, so they have to be approached very gently. Nonetheless, it is not surprising that Sarah was the only one in the group for whom Velvet briefly rolled over on her belly.
|Sarah is The Cheetah Whisperer|
There are also 15 - 20 giraffes at Inverdoorn. Sarah and her sister Patti both have a special connection with giraffes. The giraffes at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo specifically seek out Sarah. We saw the Inverdoorn giraffes on both a late afternoon game drive on our first day and an early morning game drive on the second day.
|We were 15 meters away from this future NBA draft pick|
|This acacia tree tastes GOOOOOD!!!|
|This giraffe reminds us of Sarah’s sister Patti|
The group of seven in our vehicle was hoping to walk among the giraffes in the morning. Unfortunately, there were two game drive vehicles in the same area and the giraffes may have gotten a little spooked.
Although we didn't get quite as close to the giraffes as we hoped, we were able to get some excellent action photos. We watched with fascination as five giraffes bolted from feeding at a tree in an open area, in search of a more secluded grove of trees.
|Run away! Run away! Run away!|
Later on, we were treated to the spectacle of two male giraffes engaged in a ritual that helps determine male dominance during mating season. The giraffes stand side by side, facing in opposite directions, and take turns head butting each other in the side and back. It looks pretty comical. This lasted for 15 or 20 minutes, before they both got tired out.
|“Don’t do that! I’ll smack your butt!”|
|An exotic two-headed monster appears from the bush|
|After a tough match, the rivals head off to share a Castle Lager|
We will write about the other animals, vegetation and facilities at Inverdoorn in a separate blog post.