Sheeba Suddenly Goes Missing
“On Wednesday, her keeper called us to say that she’d disappeared around lunchtime, and two hours later still hadn’t appeared,” Sue recalls of a time when Sue was out of town. “We weren’t unduly worried, as she was becoming more and more independent. But when we went out at 5 pm in vehicles to help look for her, there still was no sign, and by the time darkness fell we had to call off the search.”
“We were hoping she’d caught something and was still feeding, and would reappear at first light,” Sue continued. “She would no doubt be rather wide-eyed after her first night alone in the bush. But she didn’t appear. So then we started wondering if the two males who’ve been around had come by and spirited her away to mate. At over 17 months now, she was bound to be ready for mating. We prepared ourselves for a dishevelled Puddy Puddy to suddenly reappear, with burrs in her fur and a guilty expression. But she didn’t. Nor did she come back on Friday. Nor did she come back on Saturday. We began to imagine the worst.”
And then, suddenly an early morning phone call blew the lid of Sheeba’s caper. “A ranger had found her (or had she found him) wandering along the Marani valley, a long, long way from home. Her keeper Lekoitip was called, and we rushed to the place to reunite him with Sheba. When she heard his voice, and saw him walking down the hill she raced towards him, ecstatic to see him.”
The Time Had Come to Set Her Free
Sheeba was now straddling two worlds and the time was nearing for her to go free. And no matter how much their hearts protested, the team at Sirikoi knew they had to let her go. Lekoitip, a member of the Masai people, was comfortable walking in the bush with wild animals and his excursions with Sheeba helped build her muscles and make her familiar with all the sounds and smells. It gave her a routine that was as close as possible to what she would hold with her natural mother.
“During the day they would nap under a shady tree before returning home,” Sue recalls. “Sheeba would often catch hare on the way back.”
Lekoitip stayed with Sheba at her new home for a couple of months as she settled in completely and with the help of a tracking collar deploying Google Earth technology, the team was able to pinpoint her location at any given time for weeks after her official release.
Once they were compeletely certain of Sheeba’s established territory and full capacity to fend for herself as a wild cheetah, the ‘parents’ knew their primary role was done. Sheeba’s new home is about two hours away from Sirikoi in an area without tourist vehicles as she still has a proclivity for jumping into the backseat of cars, despite their best efforts to discourage her from doing so.
“We really wanted her to live a natural life so yes, it was heartbreaking to leave her but she was with Lekoitip and she felt totally at home in her new place,” explained Sue, adding that Sheeba was at the age when cubs in the wild would normally leave their mothers and go out on their own.
Bonus Photos of Sheeba
Click here to see more charming and incredible photos of Sheeba growing up and released into her new home.
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