A Premiere Daily Highlight Story: Sometimes there are stories that are just too amazing and note-worthy to keep locked away. That’s why we scour the archives and bring some of them back to experience again. They may surprise you, make you smile, or even shed a tear, but they’re always meant to add a little extra to your day.
It doesn’t matter where you find love and true friendship. As long as it doesn’t eat you to pieces…
In 2015, photographer Dolph Volker went viral when he uploaded a video of himself napping under a tree with a cute cheetah on YouTube . On his vacation days from his job in the U.S., Dolph volunteers at the Cheetah Experience in Bloemfontein, South Africa. This organization is a non-profit breeding center for endangered species, especially cheetahs and other big cats.
The animals, although domesticated and often born in captivity, are free to roam the landscapes of the reserve and live the next best thing to life out in the wild.
Dolph’s passion for protecting these endangered animals came to life when he watched his beloved dog die in his arms. The zoology degree holder decided to take up a career photographing wildlife and volunteering with his time and savings to protect endangered species.
“It changed me. All life has a greater meaning now. Consistent repetitive, compassion, love, and respect,” he explains on his YouTube channel.
In love with the species
In an adorable video that has garnered over 10 million views on his YouTube channel, Dolph can be seen lying under a tree when a sweet female cheetah, Eden, walked up to him to cuddle . She later fell asleep on his shoulder. Eden is three years old and she was born at the Experience Center. She walked up to Dolph and began to lick him playfully.
Read: African Elephant Kills Big Game Hunter By Falling On Top Of Him
According to Dolph, he was wary of Eden’s licks when they first met but once he found that he could trust her not to nip his ear, he’s fully comfortable with her now.
“True to Eden’s nature, she warmed up to me in days and ended up really liking me, so much so that I was able to trust her completely.
“The more she felt comfortable with me, the more she treated me just like another Cheetah which included the grooming, nibbling, biting, pacifying, purring, laying on me, and sleeping… cuddling up close to me. I’m amazed at how much more interactive and affectionate Cheetahs are compared to the average domesticated cat,” Dolph wrote .
Trust is golden
The bond he shares with the big cat is amazing to watch. Eden obviously loves him, certain that he would never turn his back on her. She would walk all the way from her spot in the wild to find him under the tree. Dolph trusts her completely now, certain that she would never turn a wild side on him and hurt him. Dolph’s relationships with all the Cheetahs grew so deeply that he now calls himself “The Cheetah Whisperer.” Rightly so.
He spends most of his time these days with his special friends, learning true love every day.
“I had no idea Cheetahs were so special. I’ve fallen in love with them. It’s an incredible species that truly deserve help, support, and protection,” Dolph said.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, cheetahs, native to Africa and Asia, have moved from vulnerable to endangered on the red list over the past few decades . While poachers thrive largely in these parts, hurting the beautiful cats and damaging their habitats, their numbers are expected to dwindle another 53% in 15 years.
There are only an estimated 7,000 cheetahs left in the wild. Visit the Cheetah Experience to find about donating to the protection program and processes of adopting an endangered cheetah.
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- “Cheetah Cuddles With Man Sleeping.” Animal Channel. Jonathan Maes. September 25, 2017.
- “Taking A Nap With Loving Female Cheetah..” Youtube. Dolph Volher.
- “Wildlife Photographer Takes A Nap With A Cheetah. Wildlife Photographer Takes A Nap With A Cheetah.” Cheetah Experience.
- “Cheetahs Are Dangerously Close to Extinction.” National Geographic. Alexandra Petri.
This article originally appeared on The Hearty Soul in November 2019 and has been published here with permission.