At home in the Ark |

At home in the Ark

Becky Bosshart
Appeal Staff Writer

New cheetah cubs Moyo and Jamar are penned up on the other side of their enclosure, and a group of visiting school children aren’t too happy about it.

About 20 second-graders are climbing over each other to get a glimpse of the cheetahs through the viewing window. Nova Simpson, the tour guide, is having a hard time projecting her voice over the group.

“Three … two … one, can I get quiet?” the Carson City native asks the squirming bunch who are visiting from a Stead Elementary School. Some respond, others continue to tussle with one another for a better view of the male cubs, the two newest additions to Animal Ark, a nonprofit nature center and sanctuary for wildlife about 40 minutes northeast of Reno.

“Why are they back there in the cage?” asks Zachary Berger, 7. An older female cheetah, Zulu, is out in the fenced yard sunning herself. The children want a closer look.

“Because they don’t get along with the female cheetah,” Simpson replies. “You know how boys and girls don’t always get along.”

“Where’s the dad?” asks Aliyah Clark, 8.

“He’s still back in South Africa,” Simpson says.

The two half-grown cheetah cubs were born in captivity at the De Wildt Cheetah Centre in South Africa. They were donated to the Animal Ark. In return, the sanctuary will assist in the organization’s cheetah conservation fund, said Animal Ark co-owner Diane Hiibel. Cheetahs are threatened in the wild by ranchers when grazing animals encroach on hunting territory.

After about 40 hours of travel in crates, Moyo and Jamar arrived at the sanctuary on April 11. It’ll cost the sanctuary about $120 a month to feed the two cheetahs. The sanctuary’s annual $300,000 budget is covered by private donations.

Hiibel, who runs the sanctuary with her husband, Aaron, greets every animal, from the small gray foxes to the 500-pound bear, like beloved children. But she also speaks about the animals as wild creatures. The bobcats, for instance, “bite hard and fast. They’re good in their own environment but they’re territorial.”

Hiibel said the new cheetahs are less aggressive. Moyo and Jamar were constantly around humans, she said, and even miss people when they’re not there.

“They were calling to us quite a bit the first week with a chirping sound that sounds like a bird,” she said. “It’s what they do when they are calling for something, like asking ‘Where are you?’ They don’t roar but they do purr loudly.”

At its season opening celebration Saturday, visitors will be introduced to the new cubs. Other new additions to the sanctuary have brought its population to 37. Seven employees oversee a wildlife center that attracts 15,000 visitors a year, about 5,000 of whom are school children.

About once every two weeks staff will allow the cheetahs to run along a course, which is something that would interest 8-year-old Albert Medina.

His favorite animals are cheetahs, “because they are fast.”

If you go

WHAT: Season opening celebration

WHERE: Animal Ark Wildlife Sanctuary & Nature Center, 1265 Deerlodge Road, northeast of Reno

WHEN: 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturday

ADMISSION: $6 adults, $5 seniors, $4 children

INFORMATION: Call (775) 970-3111

EVENT: Special animal demonstrations all day. Food and drink available. Other new additions: bobcats and gray foxes.

On the Net

Animal Ark Wildlife Sanctuary:

• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at or 881-1212.