Dubai: A young cheetah cub rescued from smugglers at the Saudi border is the newest art sensation in the UAE, according to its rescuers Emirates Park Zoo and Resort in Abu Dhabi.
The African wildcat is creating his own paintings when he can get his paws on some non-toxic paint and the odd canvas or two, said zookeepers.
At a time when online cat videos are all the rage, Jasper the cheetah is making his own colourful splash in the conservation world with his own unique cat art which is now being sold by the zoo facility.
According to a statement by the zoo on Thursday, cash raised from the sale of Jasper paintings is going to fund conservation efforts by the zoo as well as the Cheetah Conservation Fund and the World Wildlife Fund.
Aaliyah Hana, CEO of Emirates Park Zoo and Resort, said the unusual art will help create a better public understanding about the shrinking population of the cheetah across Africa and may help further efforts to stave off further decline of the fastest land mammal on the planet.
Listed as vulnerable under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the cheetah can run at speeds of up to 113km/h when chasing prey on the open grasslands in its native habitat across Africa.
“With the promotion of Jasper’s art, the management hopes to help cheetahs in the wild and teach people about the horrors of wildlife trafficking. Jasper and [his sibling] Shazly were some of the lucky ones, but four out of five cubs smuggled for the pet trade don’t survive the journey. A population of 100,000 cheetahs has dwindled to 7,000 because of many issues (this being one of them), and something has to be done,” Hana said on Thursday.
The zoo rescued the four cubs — believed taken from the wild — that were seized at the border from smugglers who were going to sell the animals as pets, the zoo said in a statement
“Originally, Emirates Park Zoo and Resort brought four cubs and treated them for malnourishment and feline leukaemia. Within the first two days, two cubs died from advanced disease. As a result of efficient caregiving, Jasper and Shazly not only fully recovered, but also socialised completely into the zoo environment,” the zoo said in its statement.
Jessica Spohr, Emirates Park Zoo head zookeeper — the cubs’ primary caregiver — said Jasper responded extremely well to human interaction at the facility and “took a liking to all the keepers and has a very friendly personality. Once he was six months old, we started training him for husbandry behaviour such as sit down, target, station etc that allowed us to use him not only as an ambassador animal, but to help in medical procedures and any other husbandry we needed to give him.”
As Jasper became more accustomed to his new home, the young male cheetah suddenly took a liking to playing with non-toxic children’s paint which sparked an idea by his handlers to introduce him to canvas as well.
Soon, said Jasper’s handlers, the youngster was creating his own works of art.
“The diligent staff at Emirates Park Zoo and Resort has trained Jasper to learn how to paint using non-toxic children’s finger paint and canvas. Using the trained behaviour and positive reinforcement, Jasper has the ability to make art that is available for viewing for the general public, as well as for sale. Hundred per cent of the profits will go to conservation both within Emirates Park Zoo and with organisations like WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and CCF (Cheetah Conservation Fund),” the zoo said.
Visitors can check out Jasper and Shazly, as well as the artwork, at Emirates Park Zoo and Resort, open from 9am to 8pm on weekdays and from 9am to 9pm on weekends.
About Emirates Park Zoo and Resort
Emirates Park Zoo and Resort, Abu Dhabi is located on the Abu Dhabi-Dubai highway, 30 minutes away from Abu Dhabi and only two minutes from Formula F1 assembly point.
Height: 2½-3 feet (. 8-. 9m) at the shoulder.
Weight: 110-140 lbs (50-64kg)
Top Speed: 70mph (113km/h)
Lifespan: 10-12 years