Cape Town: President Pratibha Patil came in close contact with a cheetah and caressed it during a visit to a conservation project for the endangered big cats near here.
Patil, who is here on an official visit, drove down to the project of the Cheetah Outreach Friday evening to see for herself the work being done in South Africa for conserving the fastest land animal.
A cheetah being utilised to spread awareness among students in South Africa on its conservation was brought out and the President not only touched it but caressed it briefly like a pet in the presence of the watchful project officials.
Union Minister Sachin Pilot and MPs Prabha Thakur and Sanjay Dhotre also followed suit so also some officials.
The project chief Annie Beckhelling told the President that the fastest land animal in the world is losing its most important race- the race for survival.
"At the turn of the century an estimated 100,000 cheetah lived in 44 countries throughout Africa and Asia. Today, there are just 7,500 cheetahs left. South Africa is home to fewer than 1,000 of these majestic cats," she told the President.
Beckhelling lamented that while it took 4 million years of evolution for the cheetah to become the exceptional animal it is today and only 100 years for man to place it on the endangered list.
She said there are just 7,500 cheetahs left and South Africa is home to fewer than 1,000 of these majestic cats.
Cheetah Outreach is an education and community-based programme created to raise awareness of the plight of the cheetah and to campaign for its survival.
Beckhelling launched the project in January 1997 with just one hectare of land provided by Spier Wine Estate and two cheetahs.
Cheetah Outreach also breeds Turkish Anatolian Shepherd dogs and places them on South African farms to guard livestock in an effort to reduce conflict between farmers and predators.