I discovered the existence of the Cheetah Refuge before coming to Djibouti. My first visit was in January 2008, two months after arriving in country. I immediately fell in love with the place. This was East Africa. The flora and fauna were unique compared to the rest of the small country.
The Djibouti Cheetah Refuge was started by a French veterinarian by the name of Bertrand Lafrance 5 years ago. He found Tessai, his first Cheetah, on sale in a local restaurant and involved the police in rescuing her. Since rescuing Tessai he has since opened the Refuge to what now contains six cheetahs, dozens of wild gazelles, ostriches, lynx, tortoises and many exotic birds.
Soon after visiting the Refuge I started the Cheetah Refuge Volunteer Program for Camp Lemonier. This consists of volunteers going to the Refuge three times a week to help maintain the trails, build roads, help with the feeding of the animals, build new pens and whatever else needs to be done. There are many volunteer programs on Camp Lemonier and I'm proud to say my program has become the most popular program on the Camp that has over 180 volunteers to date.
Because the refuge relies on 100 percent donations I started the Cheetah Encounter Program where I take visitors on a private corridor tour to get up close and personal with two of the six cheetahs. I educate them on the importance of cheetahs in the wild and the endangerment of the species. Experts believe there are less than 15,000 cheetahs left in the wild. Everyone gets to come away with petting both Tessai and Awaleh (both born and raised in captivity) with photos they can share with familiy and friends back home and an experience to last a lifetime. The Refuge benefits with the much needed donations.
And for me, it's another life adventure that I have come to enjoy and look forward to week after week.