I mentioned previously that the cheetah team could no longer be referred to as the cheetah girls, and this is due to the presence of John McIlvaine. Coming from Seattle in the United States, this is his second time working with cheetahs in South Africa. “Everything about them is awesome,” he says when naming the cheetah as his favourite animal, “and I’ve worked with them quite a bit now and every time I’m with them I learn new things about them.”
At Inverdoorn he “likes being around the animals, working with the cheetahs. I like everyone I work with…and I like the fact that it’s out here in the middle of nowhere, kind of away from everything.” When contemplating some of the highlights so far, he says that one of them happened as recently as the day before. “We came here to the dam and once we let Velvet and Iziba off the leashes they were free to just run around, and yesterday I started running and Iziba was running next to me…that’s the coolest thing I’ve done so far. I like the freedom with the cheetahs you get, the fact they can just walk around. It’s really nice that they’re not just in an enclosure. They can run around and explore the dam.”
The blazing summer heat comes up again, which makes the physical work really tough. “It’s not that hot where I’m from,” he explains. “It’s a little challenging, but I’m getting used to it.” Getting close to the cheetahs makes it all worth it and, as he pointed out, is teaching him even more. “Just working with the cheetahs more and being able to read their behaviour more and pick up on their body language. I like just watching them and seeing how they react to certain things.”
Coming to South Africa has given him all these opportunities and the decision to apply for Inverdoorn was prompted by his first time in the country last year. “I really enjoyed it and I knew I wanted to come back…and I really enjoyed working with the cheetahs. So I knew I wanted to come back and do more conservation work. I always wanted to come to Africa. Since I can remember that’s the number one place I wanted to go. I’ve always been really into animals. [South Africa] seemed so far away and so different and I also liked Cape Town. I was reading about Cape Town and seeing places that just looked gorgeous. It looked like a really awesome place and I knew there were animals I could work with as well, which was a big part of the decision because I definitely wanted to work with wildlife.”
He is eager to contribute to the conservation effort at Inverdoorn. “Helping the animals, helping the cheetahs to sustain the [ones] we have left and help them breed. And the rhinos, taking care of them, that they have a future.” There has been some time to hop along on a safari as well where he recounts that “we saw everything. The rangers all have really cool things to say and definitely know what they’re talking about. The giraffe walking was definitely one of the highlights.” And, of course, watching the cheetahs run as the sun sets was another unforgettable moment, and in the coming months he is sure to make many more.