A couple with close ties to Kaslo is considering bringing their two cheetahs to the north Kootenay Lake community in hopes of expanding its tourism base while helping an endangered species.
Earl Pfeifer and Carol Plato own Kane Manor in Kaslo and a few years ago when it was saved from fire by neighbours and the fire department, the couple realized how truly special Kaslo is.
“We couldn’t get over how fortunate we were to live in such a wonderful, caring community,” said Pfeifer. “We often talked about finding ways to give back to the town.”
On the evening of June 28 about 40 people attended a presentation made at the Legion Hall in Kaslo to hear about the couple’s idea of bringing their two cheetahs, now living with them in their second home near Toronto, to town.
“If we were to build this business back home it would mean a Kaslo business would be offering services that cannot be found anywhere else in North America and that uniqueness could be extremely beneficial for Kaslo,” said Pfeifer.
Needing Kaslo’s support to gain necessary permits, the couple is being proactive in the endeavor that is still likely years away from realization.
The most difficult milestone of their cheetah project has been achieved, however. And that is actually getting cheetahs, a “class one highly endangered cat.”
“They are virtually impossible for all but large zoos to import,” says Pfeifer. “The good news is that on March 28, after two years of work and against all odds, we became the owners of two African cheetahs.”
As far as the retired couple knows, they are the only private owners of cheetahs in Canada. In Ontario, there are few laws regarding ownership of exotic animals.
“The two cats are wonderful,” described Pfeifer.
They have a one-year-old female named Annie Rose and a nine-month old named Robin, who was sired by one of the most famous cheetahs in Africa. “Right now we are working seven days a week socializing and training the cats.”
Pfiefer describes cheetahs as the original “fraidy cat.” There is no record of a wild cheetah killing a human in the 4,000 years since Egyptians first started keeping the cats captive, he said.
Today, there are fewer than 10,000 cheetahs left in the world and their numbers are declining by nearly 1,000 per year due to loss of habitat and farmers being able to kill them.
“By the time a child entering J.V. Humphries school this fall is 15, the chances of him being able to ever see a cheetah in the wild will be almost zero,” said Pfeifer.
In Africa, cheetahs like Robin’s father, who has been seen by 140,000 school children, are called ambassador cheetahs.
“While not completely tame, they are well trained and socialized,” said Pfeifer.
The couple understands the hurdles they will have to jump to bring their cheetah program to Kaslo. But Plato says they are committed to doing what’s best for the community and their cats.
“We’re passionately committed to helping save them from extinction, and our resolve is strengthened by knowing that whatever troubles we face, they are nothing compared to the difficulties cheetahs face,” she said. “Hassles, battles, legal issues, current emptying of our bank account and future decimation of our life savings — really — they’re nothing compared to extinction.”
Kaslo Mayor Greg Lay attended the presentation last month and commends the couple on being innovative and proactive. He heard of the four programs the couple hopes to offer: cheetah walks that would allow people to walk a cat on a leash; cheetah pursuit training where people would watch cheetahs run at high speeds; cheetah outreach and educational programs and cheetah encounters that would allow people to have their picture taken while being up close and personal with a cheetah.
Lay says council hasn’t made an official decision and while regulations are fuzzy, he supports the idea.
“This would absolutely have a tremendous benefit for Kaslo because it would be the only place in Canada, where people could come to walk with these cheetahs, get their picture taken,” he said.
He understands that people may have difficulty with the idea based on safety issues and concerns about keeping wild animals captive but he sees this cheetah program as good education and stewardship of the animals.
With Kane Manor right across from Kaslo’s school, he feels assured by Pfeifer and Plato’s plans to adhere to regulations as they develop their property to protect people and the cheetahs with double fencing, two feet apart, with electric wire over top.
“Their challenge is to demonstrate they can, in fact, care for these animals and meet these rather difficult requirements that don’t really deal with a small operation like this,” says Lay. “Earl is a very responsible person, not some fly-by-nighter out there. He’s done all the work, been to Africa, he’s talked with several organizations in the United States… He’s trying very hard. He’s highly motivated.”
Pfeifer understands there could be concerns within the community.
“As you can imagine, we are going to be facing nervous people,” he says. “Our house is across the street from the school… We want the people in town on our side.”
They are currently applying for membership with the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA).
“CAZA understands cheetahs very well and they are invested in making this work for us,” said Pfeifer. “We have been told that the BC government relies heavily on CAZA for professional opinion and that if we become registered affiliate members and construct our facility correctly, the BC government will rubber stamp the CAZA approval.”
For more information about the cheetah project proposed for Kaslo check out their Facebook page.