One-time game ranger and ex-military man, Kim Wolhuter, habituated a cheetah family in his homeland, Zimbabwe, and filmed them in a two-hour documentary that premieres Sunday, April 27 at 8:00 p.m. at the Discovery Channel.
Kim is a third generation ranger whose bush skills have gotten him up close and personal with many species, except for the mysterious cheetah – an animal that typically bolts on sight. In the Malilangwe Game Reserve, Kim attempted to locate a female cheetah that he had previously bonded with.
Following a feline in 200 square miles proved to be so challenging Kim had a vet implant a tracking device in her belly. Then for six months she disappeared. When he eventually managed to track her, she was mothering a litter of five cubs.
Although cheetahs don’t hunt and eat people, they can inflict serious injury when spooked or threatened. And mother cheetahs are protective of their young.
However, Kim’s cheetah allowed him to live and run amongst her brood for 18 months, enabling him to record the daily life and upbringing of one of the rarest wild cats on earth.
In a number of cases, Kim even had to intervene to drive away a pride of lions threatening his cheetah family and treating the cubs when they got sick. Still, he was unable to prevent the death of his favourite cub and his two sisters.
In a teleconference, I asked Kim why he did not document the cheetahs to the end of their lives – which could span between nine to twelve years. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the budget to do so, he conceded.
The last time he saw his cheetahs – the two sisters who survived to hunt on their own – was a couple of months ago and it breaks his heart not to be with them.
Cheetahs are close to my heart. It so happens I have been owned by an adult cheetah in South Africa. His name is Sabou and he purrs as loud as a truck motor as soon as he sees me coming.
Sabou loves to have the back of his ears and his under chin scratched, just like all big and small cats I’ve cared for. And oh, he invites me to race him each morning – as if I can outrun the fastest land mammal on earth!