Anyone who knows me knows that I never shut up about cats and kittens. I don’t have one myself because I moved around too much in my 20s. But now that I’m settled in Los Angeles, I will be getting one soon.
In June 2019, I visited the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and paid extra to watch a cheetah run. One of the cheetahs in residence, Isaka, did the race and it was pretty amazing to watch.
The cheetah is the fastest land mammal and can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds. I wanted to see this myself and was not disappointed.
After the run, we were able to meet Isaka in person. He was much bigger than I expected (about 150 lbs) and was extremely beautiful. He had a gorgeous coat and just a stunning cat face with black tear-like facial streaks running down the front. I’m pretty sure Pennywise’s face in It was modeled after a cheetah’s face.
I was pretty hooked after this and while we were at the zoo, I googled “big cats” and found the big cat sanctuary Lions, Tigers, and Bears. It happened to be 30 miles away just outside of San Diego in Alpine, CA. I immediately bought tickets and headed out there the next day.
Lions, Tigers, and Bears was pretty amazing. It is an exotic animal sanctuary that specializes in big cats and bears. I paid to do the “Behind the Scenes with the Bears” experience and got to feed the bears and a lion (obviously not with my hands but with a big stick through the fence). The male lion, Bakari, growled at me and I jumped about ten feet in the air. He was very ferocious and loud. I loved it.
Later on, I visited Shambala, another big cat sanctuary in Acton, just outside of Los Angeles. Former actress Tippi Hedren (star of the Alfred Hitchcock movie Birds) founded this in 1983. She previously raised lions, tigers, and other big cats at her home in Sherman Oaks and after the disastrous filming of Roar, decided to open a sanctuary to provide a safe (and more appropriate) home for all the big cats in the movie.
Just FYI, Tippi is now 95 years old and has had a pretty extraordinary life. I would highly recommend her two books Tippi: A Memoir and Cats of Shambala. She talks about being plucked from virtual obscurity after Hitchcock saw her in a commercial, rising to fame from her roles in Birds and Marnie, the sexual harassment she faced from Hitchcock, discovering her love of big cats, the disastrous filming of Roar, and her life after with Shambala.
Later, in October 2019, I was googling “hang out with cheetahs” one day and discovered Project Survival Cat Haven in Fresno, CA. Right there on their website, it said that I could “walk with their cheetahs.” I called them up and confirmed if this was true. “It says on your website that I can WALK WITH A CHEETAH. Are you sure that I can actually walk NEXT to an ACTUAL cheetah?” They said yes and I drove up there that weekend to do the “Walk with a Cheetah” experience.
It was amazing. The keepers brought out Jazz, their male 110 lb male cheetah. Jazz, the keepers, and I hiked up a small hill and I stared at Jazz the entire time with my mouth open in wonderment. I’m sure I creeped the keepers out. They kept telling me to stop moving so close to Jazz. I was hoping they wouldn’t notice but my plan didn’t work. Jazz was SOOO beautiful.
After that, we did the general tour and I got to meet all of the other big cats - snow leopards, tigers, lions, jaguars, the female cheetah, Salsa, and more. I loved it. During the tour, the volunteer announced that they were about to get a snow white baby lion from another accredited zoo in Minnesota. She said to come back in another month or so to see him.
Guess what I did for the next month before going back? I relentlessly stalked the cat haven’s instagram and facebook page for pictures of Barafu and couldn’t believe how cute he was. When I finally met him in person, I practically squealed with delight. He was 4.5 months old, weighed 30 lbs, and looked like a stuffed animal. They said that he would eventually reach a maximum weight of 350 lbs after 1.5 - 2 years and have tan-colored mane. I plan to go back multiple times to watch him grow up.
Why am I mentioning all this?
I’ve been thinking about what kind of impact I want to have in my life and while I still don’t know the answer yet, I’m starting to think it may have to do with big cats. I’m happiest when I get to spend time with them (and of course, when I spend time with my handful of human best friends).
I love cheetahs in particular. They are beautiful to look at, they don’t attack humans (so I can pet one without getting my arm torn off), and they are the fastest land mammal. I like it when an animal is ranked #1 in a category. Today, there are estimated to be ~7000 cheetahs left in the wild. I sincerely hope they don’t become extinct and am starting to think more seriously about what I can do to help. There are no other charities that I care about so I’m glad I discovered big cat sanctuaries. Check back with me in ten years.
What is this?
An anthropological look at how people think about money. Created and edited by Star Li.