Cheetah Run is home to a number of cheetahs, and features several large windows where guests can get up close to the large cats. Presentations are held daily, which include various enrichment activities and also lure runs, where the cheetahs can show off their speed, reaching up to 60 miles per hour in short bursts.
Location: Edge of Africa
Open Date: 2011
Cheetah Run is set in the ruins of an ancient temple, and features more than 11,000 square feet of grassland, rock formations, shaded alcoves, a waterfall, and a 220 foot dirt path for showing off the speed of the cheetahs in daily lure runs. Guests can get up close to cheetahs at two sets of large viewing windows on either end of the habitat, with overlooks at several points in between.
Cheetah Run was officially announced as part of the Cheetah Hunt expansion on October 13, 2010. From the press release:
…Building on Busch Gardens’ unrivaled ability to combine thrills with immersive animal encounters, Cheetah Run will set a new standard for bringing nature and humans together in a really unique way.
Located in the area that formerly housed the Budweiser Clydesdales, this expansive new habitat will give visitors the opportunity to get closer to cheetahs than ever before with elevated, glass-paneled viewing areas. Even more exciting will be the chance to witness the world’s fastest land animal in action. Busch Gardens’ trainers will conduct daily sprints with the cheetahs for an awesome opportunity to see one of nature’s true wonders in full form!
Families can also explore interactive touch screens to learn even more about these big cats and SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment’s work on their behalf. Through the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, the adventure parks have been helping wild cheetahs since 2005.
Even before the new habitat was announced, the first cheetahs actually arrived at the park in June 2010. Great care was taken to acclimate the cheetahs to the sights and sounds of the theme park long before they ever set foot inside the Cheetah Run habitat. The park’s Entertainment Department created decorative flags to hang around their temporary habitat to get them used to seeing movement above. A recording of Kumba, arguably the loudest roller coaster in the park’s lineup, was used to help the cheetahs get used to hearing a ride near their habitat. All of the training was done using positive reinforcement, so that the cheetahs would associate a positive experience with the sights and sounds once on habitat in front of guests.
Beginning January 27, 2011, guests taking the Endangered Species Safari tour were able to have an encounter with five cheetahs who were being housed behind the scenes before eventually being placed on the Cheetah Run habitat still under construction at that point. Those cheetahs were 12 year old male Steelman, 10 year old female Ngoma, and littermates Jagati, Iraja and Juno who were all born in October 2009. The five arrived from White Oak Conservation Center near Jacksonville, FL as part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP).
A hard hat tour for invited online media outlets occurred on February 18, 2011, where Assistant Curator Tim Smith gave bloggers an overview of the Cheetah Run habitat as it was coming together for its anticipated Spring opening.
In mid-March, the park received a four week old male cheetah cub from the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens born on February 19. The zoo noticed his mother was not able to produce enough milk, and the newborn was having trouble gaining weight. The decision was made at that point to hand-raise him. As part of the SSP, it was decided to move the cub to Busch Gardens.
In early April 2011, the park paired up the now 8 week old male cheetah cub with a 16 week old female yellow Labrador puppy, which is not uncommon in zoo settings as cheetahs are social creatures and often live in coalitions in the wild. The pair first got supervised playtime behind the scenes, and debuted together at Jambo Junction on April 16, 2011. Guests voted on the names through a facebook poll, choosing Kasi (meaning “one with speed” in Swahili) for the cheetah, and Mtani (meaning “close friend”) for the lab. The duo eventually moved to the newly built Cheetah Run habitat. Later that summer, Kasi won Budget Travel’s poll for cutest zoo baby.
The cheetahs were moved from their habitats behind the scenes to the brand new Cheetah Run several days before the official opening of the habitat on May 27, 2011. At opening, there were 13 cheetahs housed at Cheetah Run, plus the yellow lab Mtani. They were separated into several different groups, or coalitions.
In addition to Kasi and the five cheetahs from White Oak Conservation Center, six female cheetahs – Nave, Sula, Oronsay, Pego, Qi and Tiree – came from Cheetah Outreach, a conservation center in Cape Town, South Africa. Another female cheetah, Jenna, came from the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre in De Wildt, South Africa. Those seven female cheetahs arrived at the park in January of 2011.
Although no longer working, there were interactive elements including a touch screen station where guests could get more information on cheetahs, their habitat, the struggles they face in the wild.
In March 2012, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment (parent company of Busch Gardens Tampa) released a 25 minute video on cheetahs, highlighting the cats at the park and several of the staff that work with them. The video also includes a look at a cheetah running the length of Tropicana Field.
Around the beginning of April 2012, one of the female cheetahs, two and a half year old Juno, was being prepped for transport to the White Oak Conservation Center as part of the SSP. She came to Busch Gardens from White Oak along with her brothers Iraja and Jagati, and was being returned there in hopes she would breed. As part of the transfer, Juno received a comprehensive pre-shipment exam at the brand new Animal Care Center to make sure she was in perfect health before being transported.
On the first anniversary of Cheetah Hunt’s official opening, a birthday party for the seven female cheetahs from South Africa was held on May 27, 2012. The cheetahs all turned two between April 30 and May 28, and the staff decided to hold one big party for them at one time. At 3 p.m., the cheetahs were allowed onto their habitat which had been decorated with a large “cake” make of cardboard boxes, some of the cheetahs’ favorite toys, and other forms of enrichment for them to enjoy. They were also tossed some meat “popsicles” later in the afternoon to help them cool off from all the fun.
In the spring of 2013, two of the park’s female cheetahs, sisters Pego and Oronsay were moved to White Oak Conservation Center in north Florida with the hope of them breeding as part of the SSP.
On August 7, 2013 at the White Oak Conservation Center, a female cheetah named Scarlet gave birth to a litter of three cubs. The father of the cubs was Asali, who belonged to Busch Gardens but was residing at White Oak at the time with the intention of breeding. Another male cub that belonged to the park, Duma, was also residing at White Oak at the time.
At the end of November 2013, a television special debuted on Nat Geo WILD entitled “Man v. Cheetah” which featured two NFL players racing against two of the park’s cheetahs on the Cheetah Run habitat. Running back Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans and Chicago Bears’ wide receiver Devin Hester raced Jenna and Nave earlier in the year. The two cheetahs had both been previously clocked at maximum of 62 miles per hour when running on the 220 foot track. A special temporary enclosure was built on the habitat to allow the players and cheetahs to safely run side by side.
On the final weekend of January 2014, the cheetahs celebrated “Catsparilla” – a twist on the area Gasparilla celebration that celebrates the legend of famed pirate Jose Gaspar. The cheetah version featured its own pirate ship made from a variety of items as enrichment along with some special treats for the cats.
In the summer and fall of 2013, the park began introducing Kasi, the male cheetah who had been paired with Mtani, a yellow lab, to Jenna, one of the female cheetahs. Kasi had been showing more and more interest in the other cheetahs than his canine companion. By the end of the year, animal care staff were deciding whether to keep Mtani at the park or let her go home as the adopted pet of one of staff members. In March 2014, the park announced Mtani had been adopted by one of the animal care staff and was now living at home with them. Kasi remained paired with Jenna on habitat.
In February 2015, the park welcomed two new cheetah cubs. From the press release:
Busch Gardens® Tampa has welcomed two new adorable additions – three-month-old cheetah cubs. The Busch Gardens animal care team is providing 24-hour-care as the cubs continue to get stronger and explore their new home.
The cubs were born on Nov. 22, 2014 and weigh approximately 12 pounds. Their names, which were given by the Busch Gardens animal care team, are Tendai, meaning “thankful,” and Thabo, meaning “joy.”
Once the cubs are old enough, they will start their own coalition as part of Cheetah Run, the innovative cheetah habitat that opened alongside Busch Gardens’ triple-launch coaster, Cheetah Hunt, in 2011. Until then, guests can see the cubs at various times throughout the day in the Edge of Africa area of the park, or by taking an Animal Care Center Behind The Scenes tour through Sunday, March 1.
At the start of 2017, the Cheetah Hunt area, which included the roller coaster and Cheetah Run, was merged into a newly designated Edge of Africa area.
Additional images and details on Cheetah Run will be added in the future.
Park Map – January 2017 (Author’s Collection)
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