Photos by Tracy Wilson
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When I brought a young cheetah cub home form the Columbus Zoo in 1980, I had no idea how much my life would change. I had worked at the Cincinnati Zoo for many years, started an outreach program using native Ohio animals to reach out to area students and even raised a young lion and tiger cub for several months. But this was a new experience and as our, then Director, Edward Maruska said, to me “This cat could be long term”. I don’t think either one of us had nay idea how “long term” it would turn out to be.
Angel lived for nearly 12 years and together we visited 15 major zoos as wildlife ambassadors, many local and national TV shows, including “good Morning America”, “Today”, “Regis and Cathy Lee” and the “Tonight Show”. We visited hundreds of local schools and thousands of students heard her purr and more importantly, heard the cheetah’s story of survival.
I read once “you are forever responsible for what you have tamed”. Angel made this very personal for me as her eyes, full of recognition, would meet mine as she rose to greet me each day when I arrived at our zoo. Her constant willingness to do as she was asked and the strong partner bond we developed made me realize early on, that the only way I could re-pay her life was to give back to her own kind, in the wild.
My meeting and friendship with Dr. Laurie Marker, founder and director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia, Africa, allowed me to honor Laurie’s efforts to save the wild cheetah. In remembrance of Angel, my husband and I were able to help purchase the first farm that became home to Laurie’s Conservation efforts.
This vital connection continues today. The Zoo’s Cat Ambassador Program continues to support Laurie’s work in Africa. The Circle is complete; Angel has been honored in the most productive manner possible - a chance for all cheetahs.
The Zoo’s current cheetah, Moya and Sahara, came up to our farm. Today, April 25, it was cool with a slight drizzle. Released into a large open field, these cats trained to chase a lure, were able to do as they were born to do. Hit speeds that, I guess, reach 50 miles per hour. What a joy to see those ears pinned flat, head lower, bright eyes focused intently, then the sliding abrupt stop, the quick whirl to snag the lure, the bite, sides heaving from the effort, feet planted firmly. That wonderful joy of doing what they do best – run!
I thank Angel every time I am privileged to witness this, every time I feel a rough, wet tongue on my arm, every time I can touch that spotted fur, every time I am honored by a friendly glance, every time I am allowed to touch a piece of the wild.
Many thanks to Cathryn Hilker for allowing the use of this article on ExoticCatz.com.com in cooperation with the Feline Conservation Federation. This article is copyrighted 2004 by Cathryn Hilker, and originally appeared in the FCF Newsletter. Photos are copyrighted 2003 by Tracy Wilson. All rights are reserved. FCF members receive a bi-monthly newsletter containing a wealth of articles like this one, and I highly recommend becoming an FCF member to learn more about exotic felines.