There is a world-wide trend to dissuade tourists from supporting facilities that offer wildlife interaction programs. This has stemmed from a lack of standards and the inability to determine what is right and what is exploitation. Knee-jerk reactions and classifying all wildlife facilities that allow interaction as bad is not the right way to close down the really bad facilities that should be shut down.
Accompanying our cheetahs on their daily enrichment cannot be classified in the same category as walking lions. The recent Blood Lions documentary has exposed an industry linked to the canned hunting trade where lions are bred in large numbers and the cubs sent to lion cub petting facilities. When they are too old for petting, they move on to the lion walking facility where tourists are led to believe that the lions will be reintroduced into the wild. After they mature and are no longer safe for walking, they are sent back to high density holding pens where they are advertised as specimens for hunting purposes. Whilst certainly not all facilities that offer lion interaction programs are involved in this trade, one needs to ask what will happen when the animal is no longer suitable to be handled by tourists and whether a lion that has been associated with humans will ever be reliable enough to release in the wild.
Our cheetahs were born in captivity and they will not be released. They will live out their natural lives at Tenikwa. Since they arrived at Tenikwa as young cubs, they have been taken on walks as part of their daily enrichment and this is a special time that they look forward to. It keeps them fit and psychologically healthy, and it is natural behaviour that can and will continue throughout their lives. We do allow guests to accompany them, but the walk is for the enjoyment of our cheetahs and this is clearly spelt out in the safety briefing beforehand. It is a unique opportunity to spend some time with a threatened species and to observe them as they explore the smells of the natural vegetation. The money that we charge for this privilege is ploughed back into conservation to fund our wildlife rehabilitation program which puts wild animals that are able to be released back into the wild.