Catching up with cheetahs at the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre MzansiBride

Winona Griggs

Catching up with cheetahs at the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre

When you’re determined, sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands. After living in South Africa for almost 29 years, I still hadn’t had the chance to see a cheetah or leopard in the wild. As a passionate photographer, it wasn’t just about finding these magnificent cats, but also about capturing stunning shots of them.

Realistically, unless I’m offered a sponsored blog trip by Lion Sands, Londolozi, or Tinga (yes, I’m not being subtle), it’s unlikely that I’ll have the opportunity to see these cats in their natural habitat. So, I decided to embrace the next best thing – a visit to the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre in De Wildt.

Hartbeespoort and Johannesburg are both within a short drive of De Wildt, located on the R513. Since 1971, De Wildt has been dedicated to protecting the cheetah and African Wild Dog, along with other animals, to ensure their survival for generations to come.

When my family from England came to visit, we knew it was the perfect opportunity to explore the Cheetah Centre. Our excitement grew as we gathered behind a rustic fence, eagerly awaiting ‘The Cheetah Run’. Our guide shared a playful joke, predicting that it would take us until the final run to master the perfect timing to capture more than just a cheetah tail in our photos.

So, picture this: I’m at the cheetah centre, and they release three cheetahs to chase a high-speed lure. Let me tell you, those cats are no joke when it comes to speed. I mean, if you blinked, you would’ve missed them!

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But here’s the really cool part. After the cheetah run, they give you a chance to take a photo with one of the ‘Cheetah Ambassadors’. How awesome is that? And that’s not even the best part. After the photo, we went on a three-hour guided tour of the centre. And let me tell you, it was eye-opening. I learned so much about the amazing work they do here.

During my visit to the rehabilitation center, I had the incredible opportunity to witness firsthand the amazing work they do. They not only take care of injured vultures but also breed African wild dogs, contributing to the conservation efforts. The center is home to a diverse range of animals, and on our tour, we were lucky enough to see honey badgers, caracals, African wild cats (which, interestingly, resemble domestic cats), brown hyenas, and, of course, cheetahs. One of the most remarkable sights was the King cheetahs, sporting a unique fur pattern due to a rare genetic mutation.

As part of the tour, we had an exhilarating experience of being ‘hunted’ by a pack of African wild dogs. It was a noisy and thrilling encounter that left a lasting impression. However, it was disheartening to learn that misconceptions surrounding African Wild Dogs hinder their release back into the wild. Despite their importance in the ecosystem, these beautiful creatures are often misunderstood.

The tour reached its climax when we entered the cheetah enclosure in our game-viewing vehicles. This allowed us to get remarkably close to four juvenile cheetahs. Witnessing these majestic animals up close was truly captivating, and we were even able to hear them purring! The photo opportunities were exceptional, and we left the center with hearts full of joy and unforgettable memories of our cheetah experience.

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