Thursday, September 16, 2004

Cheetah lover spots a need for fund-raiser

Woman fell in love with the big cats when she visited South Africa

April Davis of Westlake Village had never attended a fund-raiser, but that didn't undermine her determination to sponsor an event to raise consciousness and funds for her passionate cause: cheetahs.

"I didn't know what I was getting myself into, but I just had to do something," Davis, 26, said of how she got immersed in putting together the benefit Cheetah Outreach 2004 Race for Survival.

On Sept. 19, from 7 to 10:30 p.m., the Race for Survival will unfold in the Southland, at Le Meridien Hotel at Beverly Hills.

The event will honor Annie Beckhelling, founder of Cheetah Outreach, and actress Stefanie Powers, whose efforts to support wildlife preservation are known worldwide. Their awards will be presented by actor Dan Haggerty, who portrayed "Grizzly Adams" and is Davis' uncle.

The energetic Davis said it was her visit to South Africa last year that triggered such a love affair with the cheetah, and it prompted her to suspend plans to become a veterinarian.

Instead, she now plans to use her training as an occupational therapist to provide money and time to call attention to what she calls a "very endangered" species.

The "Survival" benefit will include a fashion show, auction with five-star safari and Zulu dancers, but the real celebrities, she says, will be Kamau and Kgosi, cheetahs from Northern California's Leopards Etc.

Davis didn't intend to become so smitten with the spotted cats, the fastest land animal. She was on a wine tour in Cape Town and heading to Botswana for a safari. That's when she learned about Cheetah Outreach, located on the wine estate. Already primed with a "huge love for animals," she learned Cheetah Outreach accepted international volunteers. She was accepted for November 2003 to February 2004.

She worked with the cats, "handling them when tourists paid a small fee, $5, to pet the cats and have photos taken while we explained about the cheetah and its plight," she said.

She was in charge of two cubs. Cheetah Outreach, she said, takes captive-born cheetahs, hand-raises them and escorts them to schools, malls, hotels and various venues to "teach people about these cats and instill a conservation ethic."

She calls Cheetah Outreach "the very best when it comes to animal husbandry and nutrition." One photo from Cheetah Outreach shows honorary co-chair Patrick Swayze with cat Joseph.

Davis, the daughter of Bob and Laura Davis of Westlake Village, has a bachelor's degree in occupational therapy from Boston University and a bachelor's in biology from Pepperdine University. She was poised to attend the University of Sydney, Australia, when the cheetahs appeared in her life.

Cheetah Outreach information says that, at the turn of the 20th century, an estimated 100,000 cheetahs lived in 44 countries in Africa and Asia. Today, that number has dwindled to an estimated 10,000 worldwide.
"At the present rate of decline, this species will be extinct in less than 10 years," Davis said.

A donor, who wants to remain anonymous, has agreed to underwrite the Cheetah Outreach 2004 Race for Survival and thus provide more money for Cheetah Outreach education and fellowship programs, resource building, research and upgrading of the facility.

The Le Meridien at Beverly Hills is at 465 S. La Cienega Blvd. in Los Angeles. For tickets, for donations or to volunteer, call Davis at 1-805-358-4222.

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