PARENTS

'They're Just Pussycats!' Toddler Brother And Sister Who Have CHEETAHS For Pets

09/05/2013 12:19 | Updated 22 May 2015

When you shout, 'Here kitty, kitty' in the Schoeman household you'd better have your running shoes on.

For instead of sharing their lives with a couple of pussycats, you know, like normal kids, three-year-old Malan and his sister Kayla, one, are best friends with the world's fastest land animals - two deadly cheetahs.

The siblings have formed an extraordinary bond with the creatures after growing up with them in their home in South Africa.

The pair think nothing of sharing their toys with the two cheetahs - affectionately known as Wakuu and Skyla - and can often be found taking their feline friends out for a ride in the family's mini Jeep.

The remarkable family friendship began a year ago when a wild cheetah living at the Garden Route Game Lodge gave birth to four cubs.

The children's parents, managing Game Ranger, Hein, 29, and his wife Kim adopted two of the cubs

Their parents, Kim and Hein Schoeman, are also very close to the cats. Hein even teaches the cheetahs to hunt for themselves so they are not alienated from their natural environment, in the hope they might be reintroduced into the wild one day.

The couple considered the cubs to be vulnerable because a mother cheetah can usually only provide for half of her litter and mortality rates are highest during the first 16 weeks of life.

However, in the months that followed, Kim and Hein were stunned to see the extraordinary relationship that formed between the cats and their two young children - then just two years and three months old.

Kim, 29, said: "I would be warming milk for babies and warming milk for cheetahs. I just kept feeding everyone.

"When I was working, I would have them all in the office with me during the day and at night I would get up every two hours to feed them.

"They wanted to be close to us because they didn't have a mother and they were so much a part of our family that I would end up having the cheetahs and the kids in bed with me.

"The kids saw them as completely normal. There was no difference in the way they treated the dogs or the cheetahs. They cuddled them like big teddy bears.

"The kids were taught not to run anywhere near the cats and when they walk, they have to face them. They are not allowed to turn their backs on them."

As Wakku and Skyla got older and bigger, Kim and Hein created a new shelter for them in their back garden where they now live.

But the bond between the toddlers and the cats has remained strong as they have been bought up together - essentially as siblings.

But Kim added: "Our kids are small but they think they are dominant. If the cats jump or pounce, then they just push them down and say, 'No, don't do that', like other children might do to a dog.

"The cheetahs are wild animals and their instincts are there. The kids realise they can't just go into the enclosure to play with them whenever they want to. It's a lot of work in the beginning but it's worth it."

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