Lara and I both love cats. A lot. We had two cats before we left on our travels, and whenever we stop at a B&B or guest-house we are always happy if they have a cat for us to play with. So when we found out that the neighbors at one of the places we were staying in Namibia had a pet Cheetah, our ears perked up.
In Namibia, the neighbors actually meant a farm 15 km down the road. We got directions and drove out there to have a look for ourselves. A gravel road led to a collection of buildings surrounded by a high fence. There didn't seem to be anybody around and we stood at the gate for a moment wondering whether to go inside. And then we spotted it. A full grown cheetah, laying on the ground not 10m on the other side of the gate.
At the moment a young woman in her early twenties came out from inside the farm and greeted us at the gate. We explained we'd heard about the Cheetah and she invited us in. We chatted with her as a cat the weighed as much as either of us sauntered over and flopped at our feet. Apparently Cheetahs are fairly common in Namibia and they cause a lot of problems for farmers because they are killing machines when they get into a heard of sheep. This one had been raised from an infant.
At first both of us were a little bit hesitant around such a powerful animal, but the Cheetah didn't seem to care. It acted more like a house cat, except that its purr was so loud that it seemed more like the growl of an angry wolf. It flopped around, let us scratch it behind the ears, and generally seemed to enjoy being petted. It purred nearly constantly.
We hung out for a little while, playing with the cat and asking questions about life on the farm. After about an hour the parents came home ( the farm is a multi-generational affair) and we were invited to stay the night and join them for dinner. We happily accepted the generous offer and had a great dinner where we learned a lot about life on a rural Namibian farm. We even participated in the local farm-life, going out to manage the cattle in the evening, and helping feed the baby sheep in the morning.
All the while the big cat just hung around like a normal cat. Or nearly normal. It had an unnatural interest in the dog's puppies (who were kept safely behind a fence). It also apparently couldn't be trusted around small children, who it saw is prey. We quickly learned to feel completely safe though, and soon it seemed fairly normal to sit down for coffee with a cheetah laying on our feet.
Cheetahs are the only big cats that can be "safely" domesticated, mainly because they are built for speed, not power, so they aren't as strong as lions and leopards. Still, they are amazing animals and we had a great respect for just how formidable a hunter a cheetah would make.
The best part of the experience though was meeting the lovely farm family. Even without the cat it would have been one of the highlights of our trip. The opportunity to cuddle a man-sized ended up just being a wonderful bonus.