Cheetah Raised by Humans Who Loved Her Enough to Set Her Free
In 2010, a one month old baby cheetah made her way under the fence of the Ol Pejeta chimpanzee sanctuary in Kenya. And it was lucky that she did because there were a lot of wild animals roaming around that would have thought of her as a nice snack. The people at the sanctuary decided to name her Sheeba.
According to Sue Roberts of the Sanctuary, “When she arrived she was terrified of humans, lots of hissing and spitting, so it was important to get her trust fast. To do this we had to be on the same level as her, so we took turns for the first three days to lie next to her and do our office work from the floor."
" We would sleep with her in a tent on a mattress on the floor and she would gently pat our faces in the morning when she wanted us to wake up. We played classical music which calmed her down enormously, Beethoven was best. This paid off after eight days and we took her outside to play. She was no longer frightened or trying to run away. She was now full of fun and joy and confidence and came when called.”
Sheeba quickly grew into a sleek and lanky animal and soon her interest in exploring and being mischievous as a young and curious cheetah became more pronounced. She would also follow them all over the sanctuary. But one morning they found her sitting in the sanctuary's car hoping to go for a ride with them. This was something they really had to discourage as they did not want her to become to acclimated to humans and vehicles. Sheeba however was not happy about the refusal and ended up taking off for a very long walk into the wilderness.
When she did not return for more than 4 days, her friends at the sanctuary began to worry that the worst had happened. Their fears were dispelled however when a ranger found her wandering a long way from home and called the sanctuary. After rushing to bring her home they realized though that Sheeba was now straddling two worlds and that the time to set her free had arrived. Thus they began a routine with her and her Masai caretaker,Lekoitip, who took her for long walks in the bush to help build up her muscles and get her familiar with all the different sounds and smells of the wild. This is something that she would have done with her own mother if she had still lived in the wild. She was also learning to catch hares on her own.
They eventually found an area for her to establish her own territory and one that was far away from humans and tourists since she still had the desire to want to jump in the back of cars despite their best efforts. Her new home is about 2 hours away from the sanctuary. Once they were completely certain of Sheeba’s established territory and her capacity to fend for herself as a wild cheetah, they knew their primary role was done. Although their hearts were breaking it was time to let her go.
As Sue Roberts explained, “We really wanted her to live a natural life so yes, it was heartbreaking to leave her but she was with Lekoitip and she felt totally at home in her new place." She added that Sheeba was at the age when cubs in the wild would normally leave their mothers and go out on their own. Live wild and free as you were meant to be Sheeba!
The young, vulnerable Sheeba showed deep affection for her human family.
Sheeba on arrival. She was very frightened and understandably so.