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In August 2023, The Wildcat Sanctuary welcomed 10-year-old cheetah, Erin.

Erin had recently been retired from an AZA-accredited zoo where she was part of the Survival Species Plan (SSP). The SSP is an international program that ensures the survival of certain species who are threatened or endangered in the wild. Her zoo also visited to ensure that TWS would be the best retirement home for her.

Male cheetahs are known to live in coalitions in the wild. In captivity, they do best with another cheetah close by, even if that cheetah is next door.

After welcoming senior cheetah brothers Kitu and Lavani back in 2021, they proved just how strong the bond actually can be.

Now nearly 13 years old, these brothers are at the end of their life expectancies. Because of this, they are in our Comfort Care Program to help with arthritis and gastritis. Over the past year, Lavani’s health has been slowly declining.

Our hearts know how bonded the brothers are, and nothing can replace that. But we felt it would help to have another cheetah nearby if and when one of the cheetah brothers passed on.

It’s just one of many ways we provide individualized care to meet the needs of each cat, even during end-of-life care and difficult decisions.

We hope the brothers will be just as excited about their new neighbor as we are.

Life at the Sanctuary

While Minnesota may seem like an odd choice for a retirement home for a species that lives in warm climates in the wild, there was a good reason these cheetahs have come to us. Our sanctuary was the perfect choice since we specialize in individualized geriatric care through our Comfort Care Program.

With our temperature-controlled indoor areas, free-roaming habitats and onsite veterinary care, we’re well suited to give these cheetahs the off-exhibit retirement they deserve.

Our caretakers drove 20 hours roundtrip to pick Erin up. She was an excellent passenger and unloaded without a problem when they arrived at the wee hours of the morning. You can watch a video of her arrival HERE.

Erin came up to her caretakers to eat the very first day she was here and made herself comfortable in her straw hammock bed. We’ve been told Erin is a very independent lady and has much more sass than Kitu and Lavani.

She quickly acclimated to her new surroundings and began exploring her outdoor habitat. Her neighbors Kitu and Lavani were VERY interested in who this cheetah girl was living next door to them now!

We can’t wait to see her stretch her wild side at her forever home here with us.

How You Can Help

Rescuing older wild cats is such an expensive commitment since they require specialized elder care. That’s why our sponsorship program is so important. It helps provide the best life possible for those we’re able to rescue.

Would you consider becoming Erin’s sponsor parent, or even giving a one time donation toward her care?  There are buttons at the top of this page that make it easy to do. And, it makes such a difference for her – thank you!

Frequently Asked Questions

Are these the first cats from a zoo we’ve provided a home for?

No, these cheetahs aren’t the first cats we’ve helped from reputable zoos. Cougar Max came to us after a flood damaged his zoo enclosure beyond repair. And when the country of Argentina decided to turn their zoos into educational eco-parks, their seven lions came to us to live out their days. Tiger brothers Jeremy and Simon also arrived here after their zoo agreed to no longer breed white tigers per AZA guidelines.

Is this the first time you’ve had cheetahs?

No, our first cheetah residents arrived in 2021.

How long do cheetahs live?

Cheetahs in the wild (both male and female combined) have an average lifespan of 10 – 12 years. The average lifespan of an adult male in the wild skews lower (8 years) due in part to territorial conflicts with competing groups of males. In captivity, live to be about age 12- 15.

Both acute and chronic gastritis is a significant health problem in captive cheetahs. Chronic gastritis is commonly identified in the captive cheetah, of which the majority (95%) of cases are associated with gastric spiral bacteria. Many cheetahs develop systemic amyloidosis (type AA) secondary to gastritis that results in renal failure, a leading cause of death among captive cheetahs

How will cheetahs do in Minnesota winters?

They will have heated indoor bedrooms with heated floors as well as many heated and covered areas outdoors. Cheetahs are not the only African species of cats The Wildcat Sanctuary has provided a home for. Lions and servals also enjoy living wild at heart here at the sanctuary.

Does the Sanctuary receive support from the former facility?

Each placing and receiving facility makes their own arrangements. But in many cases, it is the receiving facility’s responsibility to cover the cost of primary care or housing.

What is the Species Survival Program (SSP)

Accredited zoos around the world participate in captive breeding programs, tracking the genetic suitability for mating pairs. In most cases, accreditation requires that zoos holding captive cheetahs must support conservation work.

Are cheetahs part of the illegal wildlife trafficking industry?

Every year, some 300 cubs are illegally trafficked out of Somaliland into the Arabian Peninsula, where they’re often sold as pets through Instagram and YouTube. Many of these cheetahs, who can be bought for a mere $6,600, end up in Gulf Arab mansions of the super rich, becoming the latest prized possession for social media bragging rights.

Globally, the three top sellers of pet cheetahs are based in Saudi Arabia. It’s estimated that 1,000 cheetahs are held captive in Gulf countries.

The mortality rate for captive cheetahs is high. Sadly, for each cheetah successfully smuggled out of Somaliland every year, three die on the journey. Most cheetahs sold to private owners die within two years, since cheetahs have special diets and need freedom to roam.

With only 7,500 cheetahs left in the wild, this fascination with “pet cheetahs” is driving them to extinction.

Interesting Facts about Cheetahs

Built for Speed

The fastest land animal in the world, a cheetah can reach 69.5 mph in just three seconds – faster than a sports car accelerates. Its body has evolved for speed, with long legs, an elongated spine, adapted claws to grip the ground, and a long tail for balance.

When cheetahs are running full speed, their stride (length between steps) is 6-7 meters (21 feet). Their feet only touch the ground twice during each stride.

The cheetah has “semi non-retractable” claws (almost like dog claws) that work like the cleats on a football shoe to give the cheetah a lot of traction when running. The pads of most cats’ paws are soft, but the cheetahs’ pads are hard, like the rubber on a tire. This also helps them grip the ground when they are running so fast.

The cheetah has a long, muscular tail that has a flat shape. The tail almost functions like a rudder on a boat because they use it to help control their steering and keep their balance when running very fast.

Status in the Wild

There are fewer than 7,500 cheetahs left in the wild. The cheetah is globally listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List.


Unlike other big cats (a classification which includes lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars), cheetahs don’t roar. They growl when facing danger, and they vocalize with sounds more equivalent to a high-pitched chirp or bubble.

Cheetahs bark when communicating with each other. The cheetah is also unique among big cats in that it can also purr while both inhaling and exhaling.

Tear Marks

Cheetahs have built-in sun glare protection around their eyes. The cheetah’s “tear marks” run from the inside corners of their eyes down to the outside edges of their mouth.

These marks help reflect the glare of the sun when they are hunting during the day. They work just like the black marks football players put under their eyes during the games. They also work like the sights on a rifle, helping the cheetah “aim” and stay focused on their prey while hunting.