Chewbaaka, the beloved cheetah ambassador for the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia, died on Sunday from a systemic infection that resulted from an attack on a rabid kudu that had jumped into his enclosure in late February.
At almost 16 years old, Chewbaaka had far surpassed the typical lifespan of a captive cheetah, which is 12 to 13 years. Because he had been vaccinated for rabies, the disease did not contribute to his death.
“I do hope that all who have had the pleasure of knowing him will keep his memory alive, as a gentle ambassador for his species,” said Dr Laurie Marker, founder and executive director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund. She said Chewbaaka liveda an amazing life and shared so much with so many.
Yet he still retained many wild cheetah behaviours, such as the instinct to climb and mark ‘play-trees’ – trees with low limbs that cheetahs frequent to keep track of other cheetahs in the area. He also chased a lure, reaching speeds in excess of 50 mph, to demonstrate the species’ incredible acceleration and speed. Tens of thousands of visitors to CCF over the years met the regal cheetah.
He had been featured in dozens of television shows and magazine articles about CCF.
Chewbaaka was raised with an Anatolian shepherd dog, Koya, at CCF’s International Research and Education Centre. Marker breeds Anatolians, a Turkish breed, to give to livestock farmers to protect their small stock from predators.
Koya and Chewbaaka became such constant companions that the two were often brought out to meet the public together so that Marker could explain to guests the role the guarding dogs were playing in saving the cheetah. Numerous zoos around the world have followed suit, raising young cheetahs with Anatolians to use as “ambassadors”.
Chewbaaka was chosen as the cheetah representative for the Genome 10K, an ambitious project to map the genetics of 10 000 vertebrates in five years. His DNA will be used to map the species’ genome.