“Is this safe?” I asked, with a giant lump in my throat.
“I don’t know. He’s probably hungry,” the lady behind the counter said, laughing at her own not-so-funny joke.
My palms were sweaty, my knees were shaking, my heart was racing. I was looking forward to this part of my South Africa trip for so long, but now that the time had come, I was having second thoughts. As my hand trembled, I went ahead and signed the form which, in a nutshell, warned me that today may be the end for me (and these risks were increased if I happened to be menstruating).
I was getting ready to go on a cheetah walk.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I signed up for this to begin with. All I knew was that we would be walking with an apparently “tame” cheetah while a trainer held onto a leash. We would get to pet him and take photographs with him. As excited as I was, being in that moment made me think that was still a wild, powerful cat that could turn on anyone and at any moment.
Let’s also not forget that cheetahs can run up to 70 miles per hour.
The four of us piled into a minibus (Joe, two other tourists, and myself) and off we went. The trainer asked us if we mind picking up the cheetah and letting him ride with us in the same bus.
“Not at all,” someone said.
We all laughed. A bit nervously. I, for one, thought that the cheetah would already be waiting for us in the open field we were heading to, and that this man was totally kidding.
He was not.
Yeah, so this cheetah (who was named Felix, by the way. Felix the Cat) gets on the BUS WITH US and is not restrained in any way whatsoever. He has a leash attached to him, but nobody is holding onto it.
And the cheetah decided to get a little too close to me for comfort.
Suddenly, this cheetah walk had become a cheetah ride, and I was freaking out a bit. But of course, I had to keep my cool, because you know how animals can sense these things. The trainer kept assuring us that Felix is tame, he is trained, and he wouldn’t hurt anyone.
Once we got out of the bus, we spent about an hour walking around a vast, open field with Felix, where we got the amazing opportunity to pet him, walk with him, and take photographs. I loosened up a bit, but still kept my guard up. Later on during my South Africa trip, when I was on a safari in Kruger National Park, I told our driver about the experience. He mentioned how easily cheetahs can be tamed and that there really was nothing for me to worry about.
“But there’s a reason why they don’t do leopard walks,” he said.
This amazing cheetah encounter took place at Lion Park, which is located on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa. If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend checking out Lion Park. Even if you don’t do the cheetah walk, the park itself is most definitely worth a visit.
And be sure to check out these videos on YouTube. Sorry for the poor quality, I was a bit…well, distracted.
Essential Travel Information
Flights to South Africa: To get to Lion Park, you’ll fly to Johannesburg, which is also your gateway to some of the country’s best safari locations. CheapOAir.com is a great tool for finding airfare that works for your dates, departure airport, and budget.
The cheetah walk at Lion Park: Learn more about the cheetah walk by visiting the Lion Park website.