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In April 2010, in the Lowveld area of Zimbabwe, a cheetah gave birth to five cubs.

Sadly within two days, in a cruel act of nature, she and four of her cubs were fatally attacked by a male lion, something which is common between apex predators in the wild. The sole survivor was discovered by a game scout named Sylvester, who witnessed the event and the cub was named after him by Norman and Penny English who became his surrogate parents.

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Norman worked in National Parks and Wildlife Management for many years and now heads the anti poaching unit in the Bubi Conservancy. Penny is a registered nurse and having both their experience was invaluable in the attempt to keep this young cheetah alive.

At two days old, Sylvester still had his umbilical cord attached and unopened eyes. Over the following six months the family worked hard to hand rear Sylvester, but it did not come easily, feeding was complicated and Sylvester grew faster than his bones could keep up. The struggle to find a suitable formula was assisted by the many cheetah experts who passed on information. In time a dietary plan that suited Sylvester was formulated and he began to respond.

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As Sylvester was never destined to become a pet, and being a specially protected animal on the endangered species list, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management have been involved from the outset with Sylvester’s welfare, a plan needed to be formulated for a future permanent home for Sylvester, and in this regard Wild Horizons became involved.

Despite numerous release attempts, cheetah, apparently, do not survive in the wild without experiencing the maternal care of a mother for the initial twenty two months of their lives. The human imprints of upbringing in captivity are not conducive to a wild release with rehabilitated cheetah often coming into contact with human settlements and being seen as “problem” animals.

wild horizons cheetah sylvester zimbabwe

Sylvester is now at home in the Wild Horizons Wildlife Sanctuary in Victoria Falls, where large areas of open vleis allow him to exercise naturally and build up the speed for which cheetah are renowned. With no large predators around and the support from his three carers (Ed, Bongani & Luis) who exercise him extensively and assist in nurturing this orphan, Sylvester has settled in to his new life with vigour.

Through the educational programme, Sylvester interacts with schoolchildren and guests acting as an “ambassador” cheetah to raise awareness of their peril as a species and the challenges they face being on the endangered species list. Cheetah are now threatened with extinction due to loss of habitat and prey, a diminishing gene pool and human persecution.

wild horizons cheetah sylvester zimbabwe

Find out more at Wild Horizons

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I’m Holly - born and raised in the rural British Counties, my mother began life on a sugar farm in Zululand. After reading Anthropology at university in London, working for a political activist filmmaker in India, and doing a short stint under the bright lights of Bollywood – I decided it was time to return to the motherland. To earn a crust in the name of wanderlust, I finished up a post grad in media and hotfooted around South Africa as a freelance travel journalist.