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The lion is said to be majestic, the leopard ferocious and shrewd. But elegant and graceful best describes the cheetah. The cheetah is smaller than the other two cats, but by far the fastest at speeds of 70 miles per hour it can run faster than all other animals.

De Wildt Cheetah Center

Build for speed

The cheetah is built for speed. Although fast, the cheetah cannot run at full speed for long distances (100 yards is about the limit).

Cheetah on the run

Once a cheetah has made a kill, it eats quickly and keeps an eye out for scavengers lions, leopards, hyenas, vultures and jackals will occasionally take away their kills. Although cheetahs usually prey on the smaller antelopes such as Thomson's gazelles and impalas, they can catch wildebeests and zebras if hunting together. They also hunt hares and other small mammals and birds.

The Cheetah Center

At the foot of the Magaliesberg - near the Hartbeespoort Dam - lies the renowned De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Center, a research and breeding reserve for cheetahs, wild dogs and other endangered species. The centre was founded in 1971 with the aim of breeding endangered species, through the private initiative of the conservationist Ann van Dyk on her 65 hectare farm. The population of the cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) in southern Africa was then estimated to be a mere 700 animals, and until then nobody had succeeded in breeding them in captivity.

Cheetah in the De Wildt Cheetah Center, South Africa

After intensive research with the co-operation of several well-known zoologists and zoo directors and after a number of stillbirths, in March 1975 a break-through could be celebrated: five cheetah cubs were born on De Wildt and then raised successfully. In 1981 the first birth of a healthy king cheetah could be announced. Dark stripes on its back distinguish it from its normal fellows. So far the king cheetah had be thought to be a species of its own. But the birth on De Wildt proved that the stripes are just an abnormal feature.

Animal diseases and other disasters brought about a number of set-backs. In 1986 a hail storm caused major damages. Some animals froze to death. In summer 1990 a bushfire raged through De Wildt. A pregnant cheetah female and some other animals burnt to death, a few other cheetahs sustained severe burns.

However, despite these problems, since its beginnings, 500 cheetahs - among them many king cheetahs - could be raised in De Wildt and then settled in game reserves in South Africa and other countries. It could be proven that the cheetah bred in captivity do not loose their hunting instinct and are capable of adapting quickly to natural environments.

In 1986 the cheetah could be taken off the list of endangered species in South Africa.


A research and breeding reserve for cheetahs