Last year I had NO idea what to get S for his birthday. You know what it is like you want to get something thoughtful and meaningful that they will really like and they are being less than helpful when it comes to identifying said present. Then inspiration struck, rather than get him a thing, I would get him an experience - the experience of patting a real live fully grown cheetah!
The National Zoo and Aquarium describe themselves as "A Touching Experience" and back this up by having a whole range of activities that you can do which involve touching their wild animals. The "Meet a Cheetah" is one of these, where you go into the cheetah enclosure (with a couple of keepers) and actually get to pat one of the female cheetahs. It sounded perfect so I got S a double pass - I did say he could take anyone but luckily he took me!
Our passes gave us all day access to the zoo, so we headed there early for a wander. It is a privately owned zoo, so is relatively small, but it still houses quite a range of animals, including lions, tigers, giraffes, zebras, bears, various monkeys, meercats and more. It was quite a warm day so many of the animals were hiding in the shade (we never did spot the snow leopards) but you do get to see them quite close up which is fantastic.
Then finally it was time to meet our cheetah. We were met by the zoo staff, taken through the locked gates, into the enclosure and straight up to a 10 year old female. Like any sensible cheetah on a hot day, she was sitting under a tree (which kept getting caught in my hair). The keeper told us how to get down beside her and the next thing we knew we were crouching beside her giving her pats.
Cheetah's aren't technically a big cat because they can purr and she sure was purring! She clearly likes all the attention and pats she gets from her visitors, and must have liked me because I even got licks. If you have ever been licked by a cat you know the roughness of their tongue. Times this by about 10 for a cheetah, it is a little like being licked by wet sandpaper.
We had about 15 minutes with the cheetah and keepers (there was another cheetah in the enclosure but we only patted the one) during which we talked about cheetah's, the zoo and Canberra in general.
One of the staff members kindly took heaps of photos for us so we can remember the amazing experience of patting what really is pretty much a wild animal. I would definitely recommend this experience or one of the other encounters to anyone with some time to spare in Canberra. It is expensive, but as a privately run zoo, you know that they need every dollar to cover the costs of looking after these gorgeous animals. Oh and S agreed, it was a great birthday present!