It’s rare to see a cheetah – considered Africa’s most endangered big cat – standing calmly in front of a crowd.
However, such precious moments are possible at Werribee Open Range Zoo for visitors lucky enough to see cheetah, Kulinda, participating in a routine health check.
Zookeepers have been working with nine-year-old Kulinda, encouraging her to walk along the glass viewing wall of her exhibit space and touch her nose to a yellow square that acts as a station and results in a reinforcing food reward.
Keepers move the station to greater distances incrementally during training sessions for differing visibility of the popular feline.
African River Trail keeper Danielle Ridgway said the trained behaviour helps Kulinda to be an active participant in her own healthcare and allows Werribee Zoo’s vets and keepers to monitor her mobility.
“Asking Kulinda to walk from one area to another allows our vets to have a really good look at her body condition and mobility,” Ms Ridgway said.
“Ageing cheetah like Kulinda need a little bit of extra monitoring to make sure they stay happy and healthy in their golden years.”
Kulinda’s training has taken a lot of time, patience and positive reinforcement to establish. “All our animals have the choice to participate in their training and that gives them control over their environment,” Ms Ridgway said.
“This ultimately leads to better mental health and overall animal welfare.” International Cheetah Day, on December 4, draws attention to the threats facing cheetah in the wild.
As a wideranging carnivore, they are particularly vulnerable to habitat destruction caused by urbanisation.
There are now fewer than 7000 cheetah remaining in the wild.
Zoos Victoria members and Werribee Open Range Zoo visitors are reminded that all tickets must be pre-booked online at zoo.org.au and all ticketholders 12 years and over are required to provide proof of full vaccination and follow current Victorian government directions at www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au.