New observation camera brings big cat into focus
A newly installed interactive device at Werribee Open Range Zoo is helping visitors catch a glimpse of its most elusive big cat.
The joystick-operated Cheetah Observation Camera allows users to pan across the Zoo's cheetah habitat with just a flick of a wrist, delivering live footage to a nearby screen.
African River Trail Zookeeper Suzanne Szabo said visitors often miss sighting nine-year-old cheetah, Kulinda, due to her impressive camouflage skills.
"Kulinda is your standard predator,” Ms Szabo said. "During the day, she prefers to use her camouflage to stay hidden and keep an eye on where everybody else is, which is often an area where she's difficult to view.
"The Cheetah Observation Camera enables our visitors to zoom in, move a camera around her exhibit to find where she's hiding, and see how remarkable she is.”
Native to African grasslands and plains environments, a Cheetah’s golden coat is almost entirely covered by dark spots, which help them to blend into the shadows of dense grasses. This evolutionary adaption not only helps Cheetah to hunt prey animals, but also helps protect the solitary cats from larger predator species, such as Lions, Leopards and Hyena.
The Cheetah Observation Camera mimics cheetah tracking, which is an essential wildlife conservation practice that uses a mix of telemetry, GPS and camera technologies to monitor wild populations of Africa's most endangered big cat.
Kulinda has an important role at Werribee Open Range Zoo as an ambassador to her wild cousins, educating visitors about the threats facing Cheetah in the wild. As a wide-ranging carnivore, they are particularly vulnerable to habitat destruction caused by urbanisation.
There are now fewer than 7,000 Cheetah remaining in the wild.