Her fierce eyes glimmered only a couple inches away from my face. Behind me I heard a lion roaring and zebras stomping as the sun beat down on me. The grass rustled but she didn’t look away. I was in a staring contest with a cheetah.
Cheetah: The Race for Survival is the newest exhibit at the Indianapolis Zoo and it lets you get up close and personal with the cats. Five cheetahs now call Indianapolis home and their 2.5-acre exhibit is divided into 2 pens, with 2 males on one side and 3 females on the other. On the female side, only a thin viewing pane that is clear from top to bottom separates you from the 3-year old cats, putting you just inches from the magnificent creatures!
I visited the cheetahs when the zoo opened at 9am and it is the perfect time to go. In the cool of the morning they were very active, running around the pen, leaping onto logs, hissing at each other and pacing back and forth, looking regal. If you wait until the afternoon, you will likely catch them snoozing in the heat of the day.
I was enamored by the animals and was shocked to learn that there are only about 10,000 cheetahs left on the planet. The exhibit includes educational material about cheetahs and their endangerment and a cheetah expert gives hourly chats on the topic.
At the Race-A-Cheetah speedway, you can test your speed against that of a cheetah, the world’s fastest land animal. A light shows you how far you ran before the imaginary cheetah overtook you. I made it 7 feet, 11 inches, which I’m told is average. The race costs $.50 and all proceeds go directly to the Cheetah Conservation Fund. The exhibit is sponsored in partnership with the Tony Stewart Foundation and the NASCAR driver’s voice directs you to the speedway.
The cheetahs have made the Plains Biome even more impressive. Standing in one spot I could see zebras, elephants, lions, cheetahs and more. I completely forgot that I was in a big city and felt transported to the open spaces of Africa. Yellow-Billed Hornbill birds are also new to the plains this year and are just across from the cheetahs.
Be on the lookout for a warthog in the Plains and bats in the Forest, coming to the zoo spring 2011!