Living with cheetahs – ‘Cheetah Man’, Olivier Houalet

One brave and totally committed Frenchman decided that living with cheetahs was the only way to understand them. He went into an enclosure day in and day out for 8 months (but as I understand it, he has been in contact with big cats for four years) with a special group of five orphaned cheetahs as the most efficient way to get be able to gain their acceptance and to be able to communicate with them to the point where he could call the cheetahs once released into the wild to protect them from farmers who treat them as pests. A bold conservation concept but was it going to be successful?

Olivier Houalet -  the Cheetah Man
Olivier Houalet – the Cheetah Man. Photo in public domain.
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Let’s not forget that cheetahs most often live on farmland. Farmers share the space with cheetahs because the human population of Namibia (the place where most cheetahs are found) has expanded leading to an encroachment onto the cheetah’s range.

Cheetah Man, Olivier Houalet
Cheetah Man, Olivier Houalet. Photo in the public domain.

The person is Olivier Houalet. He is 41 years old (as at May 2022 on my calc.) and he wanted and perhaps still does want to save the big cats. He says that he was able to survive in the cheetah’s enclosure by facing down the cheetah, projecting the message that he wasn’t frightened and he says that he had to genuinely mean that otherwise the cheetah would sense fear and attack. He never once went into an enclosure without the cheetah challenging him.

Houalet with his cheetahs
Houalet with his cheetahs. Photos: Facebook.

He also used his hands to make himself look as big as possible and used eye contact. Cats generally don’t like eye contact. Maine Coons are somewhat of an exception, it seems.

Here he is with his cheetahs, facing them off and gaining acceptance. He is called Cheetah Man

Not only did he help to save released cheetahs from dying at the hands of farmers he was also focusing on the farmers to try and teach them to live with nature rather than be at war with it. Living with cheetahs has given him a deep understanding of the cat and the challenging problems this cat faces in a human world at war with nature.

Update: May 8, 2022: Mr Houalet is still on the Internet. Although the Facebook posts, for example, are dated October 27, 2012. On Facebook he is described as the “self-styled Tarzan who has lived alongside cheetahs in Africa for the past 10 years”. It is said that he was convinced that he could teach cheatahs how to live in the wild. He moved to Namibia (the home of the greatest population of cheetahs as mentioned) when he was 18. He has also been dubbed the “cheetah whisperer”.

“You just have to stay strong and not show any fear when they look as if they are going to attack. And you have to mean it – you can’t fake it or they can tell. I use my hands to make me look as big as possible, and eye contact is important too. Through your eyes, they feel your meaning. If you mean strength and respect, they will be receptive. They see you come in peace.”

He said that normally when a captive cheetah is set free into the wild, they die because they can’t cope on their own. Mr Houalet believed that he was able to give them a sporting chance of survival because he was able to follow them and help them learn to look after themselves. When he called them, they used to come to him.

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