In addition to the many skills and years of experience we brought to the project; advanced knowledge of animal training became extremely valuable at a time of transition. The CFF’s Somaliland initiative has evolved into four main missions; rescue cubs from wildlife traffickers, rehabilitate them, provide temporary care and housing as they mature and become healthier, and eventually set up permanent refuge in a naturalistic setting (i.e. protected national park). The clinic property (safe house one) consists of a hospital, a small onsite residence, areas for food prep and a series of separated kennel runs all attached to a large exercise yard (all protected by concrete walls, razor wire, and armed soldiers from the government’s special police unit). The run areas house the older cheetahs and became our daily office for a bold new undertaking. The goal became to train as many cats as possible to come on command, target, and even enter a crate… this would greatly help staff move almost 20 large cheetahs to the new site, with little to no use of immobilization. Keep in mind, though having been hand raised, cheetahs are still are large predator and the group displayed a variety of personalities. Some individuals were as friendly as your dog at home, others wanted to eat you, and several wanted nothing to do with the entire process. As time grew short Jarod and I decided to divide and conquer in the few days we had left, Jarod developed and presented an education program with two vets at a private boarding school.
I went on to write up the training protocol that we developed and took videos for future staff. Fortunately the timing was right, while Jarod was away educating, I trained a vet and vet tech to continue the program. I must say, there was a quick return on our investment… 7 cats trained to crate and most were target trained! The biggest impact this training made was on the cheetahs that were not tame and that had been exhibiting stress behaviors. After training these cats calmed significantly and would lay down comfortably near humans for the first time since arriving! The best part was, we, the staff, and even the cheetahs had a wonderful time during the whole process. I guess you can train a wild cheetah new tricks!!