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27 May 2011

CHEETAH HUNT INTERVIEW 3 of 3: Mike Roos, VP Animal Habitats

Cheetah Hunt Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is an innovative new coaster ride that celebrates the spirit of the cheetah. It opened May 27 and InPark editor/publisher Martin Palicki was there to try out the ride and conduct interviews. Here, Martin talks to Mike Roos, VP Animal Habitats.

More Cheetah Hunt coverage from IPM Digital Edition:

DID YOU HAVE CHEETAHS HERE BEFORE?
Back in the 80’s we did. This is fairly new for us. We have 13 now, with seven or so out for display at a time.

HOW DO YOU INDUCE THEM TO RUN?
The funny thing is we don’t make them do anything. It’s a cat, so they do what they want to do. They sleep 18-20 hours a day. Think of a house cat, how do you get them to run after something? You use a feather and a string, or a laser pointer, or something like that.

What we have out here is a lure system. It’s really a string with a lure on it. The lure system goes about 80mph but we don’t go that fast with them. They are not going to make full speed, as it’s only about 220 feet long here, but we can get them up to probably 40-50mph. And it’s so effortless to watch them. One stride of the Cheetah is 25 ft. It is amazingly how fast they are.

The lure system can be put on a loop, so it can go round and round. They are still getting used to the area, so we take small steps with the final product being several months away.

WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE MAIN EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY FOR GUESTS?
People probably know that a cheetah is a fast runner. But they probably don’t know about cheetahs and their natural environment and that they are threatened animals, so that’s part of our interaction with the guests. 

It’s not just to see cool behavior but to share about the cheetah and its natural environment, what some of the concerns we should have about them, and then really what our guests can do. So we try to share that verbally. Obviously you can’t do that over a microphone so we have several interactives here where they can see videos, play with touchscreens and learn about natural history and conservation efforts for cheetahs and other animals as well.

WHAT PARALLELS DO YOU DRAW BETWEEN THE RIDE AND THE ANIMAL?
The ride is low, fast, quiet and stealthy, which is just like a cheetah.

IS IT TRUE CHEETAHS CAN USE THEIR TAIL AS A RUDDER TO SWITCH DIRECTIONS WHEN THEY RUN?
If you see them run, watch that tail, it is in the air. They use it as a balancer, or a rudder, absolutely.