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Wild at heart: Emirati rears cheetah at home

06/20/2009 12:25 AM

Dubai: Long legs gracefully stride towards the far corner of the room; the soft, cool Persian carpet offers a pleasant reprieve from the hot sand outside. Oblivious to the fact that the majlis has gone quiet and all eyes are fixed on him, Rambo makes his way to an empty spot on the doshek - a long mattress used in majlis where people sit on the floor.

Rambo lies down and stretches out, totally safe and comfortable with his surroundings, which is more than can be said about the rest of the people in the room whose eyes are locked on the fully grown cheetah relaxing between them.

"It's a beautiful, majestic creature," says Sultan Mohammad Hashim Khoury, Rambo's owner and trainer.

"Rambo was a high school graduation gift from my father. He was born in captivity here in the UAE. When I got him he was still a cub, only a year old. Now he is almost three and fully mature," says the 19-year-old Emirati.

"My first pet was a canary, but growing up we had many exotic animals at the house - I had birds, snakes and lizards, my brother had a tiger, which he donated to the zoo. But they were always just a novelty."

"This time when my father gave me Rambo I wanted to have more of a connection with him," says Khoury. "At first I made sure I was always there feeding him. I would spend time in his pen, to get him accustomed to human interaction. When he began getting used to me and allowed me to pet him, I began taking him for walks on a leash. And slowly he got used to having people around him."

Khoury keeps Rambo at his father's farm in Al Aweer. He has built a large pen with an air-conditioned room for him. "Some of my friends get nervous when he's around but most of them have gotten used to Rambo being part of my majlis. They do get nervous when he purrs though - it sounds like a low growl."

"He doesn't eat much for a big cat - just half a chicken in the morning and the same in the evening."

"I love petting him and playing with him, but in the back of my mind I have to always remember that he is a wild animal, and I have to know my limits, I have to be able to read his mood," says Khoury.

"He really loves riding in the car. I take him to the beach and my friends' majlis. He gets a lot of attention. Once people realise that he is tame, they all want their pictures taken with him." Khoury is also an accomplished dog breeder. His passion is breeding and training racing Salukis. He has participated in many competitions, including this year's Fazza3 Championships. He was placed second in this year's Qatar race, which is generally though of as the Gulf championship of Saluki racing.

What is the strangest pet you have come across? Do you think such wild animals could be domesticated?

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