THERE is not much need for fluffy toys in the Schoeman household, considering the children’s best pals are two cheetah cubs and a labrador named Bagus.
Hein and Kim Schoeman, who work and live at the Garden Route Lodge in Albertinia, have been raising cheetahs Skyla and Waaku along with their children Malan, 3, and Kayla, 1.
“The cheetahs’ mother was born on the property 10 years ago, and was reintroduced into the wild two years ago. She then produced four cubs, the first time this had happened in the Western Cape for more than 100 years,” Kim said.
“We decided to remove two of the cubs to improve the survival rate, and took them home with us. At that time I had a three-month-old daughter and the cubs were six weeks old, so I had to look after all of them.”
With their furry “siblings” ever present, Malan and Kayla, like Mowgli in the Jungle Book, quickly designated them their playmates. “Our kids are always under our supervision when they play with the cheetahs,” Kim said.
“Our labrador also helped raise them [cheetahs], constantly licking them and checking on them.
“My kids took to them immediately, and even though we have told them how to be safe because these are wild animals, they treat them like ordinary house cats. They don’t see the difference.”
When the cheetahs were four months old, the couple moved them to an enclosure about 10m from their house.
Hein has taught the cheetahs how to hunt in the wild, crawling on his stomach to show his young charges how to stalk springbok. Once the targeted buck has been caught, the cheetahs return to the homestead and “have dinner like the rest of the family”.
“We are using them as ambassadors for the park at the moment.
“We are able to take the cheetahs for walks on leads when we take visitors around the reserve as part of our wildlife education programmes.”
The Schoemans have been inundated with calls from US and English media about their unusual family, thanks to a YouTube video shot by former Australian volunteer Imogen Richards.
“Imogen started the documentary by filming the cheetahs inside our house, and the video has gone viral. Last night [Wednesday] I spoke to a journalist from New York who asked me how the kids were with the cheetahs, and I had to tell them, ‘My kids are more wild than they are’.”