OKC Zoo Caretaker's Commitment to Cheetahs Extends Beyond the Sooner State to Somaliland


Oklahoma City Zoo’s Assistant Curator of Carnivores, Shawn, recalls his recent travels to Africa to support cheetah conservation…

Confiscated cheetah cub being cared for by CCF.


I had the privilege recently to help support one of the Oklahoma City Zoo’s conservation partners, the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) and travel to Somaliland, Africa to help in the care of wild cheetahs.

I believe that when most people get into an animal caretaking career, they have aspirations of going out into the field for hands on conservation work. This was a carnivore specific conservation trip that I could not pass up the opportunity to apply for and was honored to be chosen to go on. Although CCF's main center is in Namibia, this conservation trip was to Somaliland where CCF has a new project taking care of 91 cheetahs, a leopard, and a caracal when I arrived. OKC Zoo is home to five male cheetahs so I was looking forward to being able to work with and lend my expertise working with cheetahs in another part of the world. One of the biggest reasons for the need for cheetah care in Somaliland is the number of confiscated cheetahs around this area resulting from the illegal exotic pet trade. A lot of times when cheetahs are confiscated, they are malnourished or have been improperly cared for before coming into CCF’s care. The majority of these confiscated cats are young cubs in need of life-saving, around-the-clock care from the CCF team to nurture them back to good health. Somaliland is a very remote and difficult place to get any type of supplies delivered to and it is always appreciated immensely when volunteers can bring supplies with them. The OKC Zoo was able to send me with medications and power tools that would make an immediate positive impact upon my arrival.

Supplies provided by the OKC Zoo for CCF.

Providing daily husbandry and care for the cheetahs was a large portion of my day-to-day duties along with any veterinary support needed throughout the day. Feeding these dozens of cats was a team effort and most everyone helped with processing the camels that were brought in for the food for a particular week. The CCF care team, though small, was extremely efficient and made up of people of nationalities from all over the world that came together for the purpose of giving the best care available for the cheetahs. Even though supplies and resources are limited in Somaliland, the cheetahs at the facilities are given the best care and it was remarkable to see how the team could still give quality care within the parameters of the area.

Adult cheetah eating.

Somaliland is quite different from anything in America, but it did not take me too long to adjust to seeing stray camels, donkeys, and goats on my daily walks to the cheetah facilities. I know for some of my friends and family, hearing that I was traveling abroad made them nervous about my safety while being there. Once I was in Somaliland, the CCF team along with the several local people and the special police unit (SPU) made my entire stay there feel completely safe and enjoyable.


Though the cheetahs are currently located in the city for care, CCF is working on establishing a protected reserve at Geed Deeble to release the cheetahs after being rehabilitated. I had the chance to visit the future cheetah reserve a couple of times on my trip and see the advancements they are making for these vulnerable animals. There is still work that needs to be done for completion, but it is coming along well with hopes on having some, if not all of the cheetahs, relocated there this year.

Geed Deeble Reserve

 This trip will be one I will remember for a lifetime, and I would encourage everyone to get involved not only with CCF but with any conservation opportunity that is available. Any and all help was needed and appreciated during my time working with the CCF team in Somaliland. One of my biggest takeaways from my trip to CCF Somaliland, was meeting people from around the world along with some of the local people that came together for the purpose of providing care to ensure the cheetahs have a better life. This experience made me realize that people from all over the world could come together for a focused conservation purpose and that each person could and did make a big difference working in Somaliland.


CCF team and volunteers! 

 As my last days came to an end, I took comfort in knowing that all the cheetahs were being well cared for and their future home was nearing completion. My last meal with all the CCF team, I let them know that I may have come for the cheetahs, but I will miss all the people the most.







Posted by Candice Rennels at 09:56
Share |
Search the site