“Motionless Claws” by Citrakayah; July 2011

Being a cheetah therian, I imagine, is quite different from the experiences of most feline therians. Speed, for one thing. If there’s one thing that distinguishes a cheetah from other cats, it is speed (and non-retractable claws, and diet, and social structure, but you get the point). Speed is what we live on- it’s how we catch our food, and I imagine it’s been used to escape from predators, though I am by no means sure of that. We are the fastest land animals (scaling not taken into account), and it shows in our body proportions.

All that running’s spilled over into our typical reaction to danger- run or find a similar way to avoid confrontation (Durant 2000, I believe- Living with the enemy: avoidance of hyenas and lions by cheetahs in the Serengeti is the title). Quite simply, we have too much of a light build and small jaws (The human equivalent, I suppose, would be arm muscles.). And that fits me, too. I run. There’s no shame in that, really. I stay and I lose. By running from danger, I escape more or less unscathed. My role will always be that of a coward, I suppose, but why should that be innately negative? No matter how some might like to pretend otherwise, one does not typically accomplish meaningful change via violence in this day and age. Perhaps it could be done in the past, but I would prefer to follow King and Ghandi than follow the likes of those who have tried to overthrow a government via force. Perhaps force is sometimes justified- but look at Africa, from where the cheetah comes. There, what often happens when one government is overthrown is that residual elements work to bring the new one down. Due to the legal implications of permanently eliminating a foe, running, in my opinion, is the best solution.

On the other hand, when it comes to a clash of minds, I am a very different predator. Here, there is no real danger of me being damaged, and I hunt with the ruthlessness of a more standard big cat. And I rarely give up, to. This combination isn’t the best one, and has sometimes led to great emotional distress (I won’t get into details, but it happened online and no, did not involve me having my perceptions challenged.). This is my form of hunting- not tooth and claw, but brain against brain, neuron against neuron. Of course, my strategies differ from that of the cheetah- my style of debate is hardly quick. But enough on such matters. There are still more things to write about. Such as food.

I’m sure most of my readers know the diet of the cheetah, but for those who do not, it is mainly the weaker forms of ungulates. Large herbivores such as zebra are foolish to try to bring down when one can kill you with a hoof. Instead, we go after gazelle, which, while fast, aren’t as deadly. I wouldn’t say that they are harmless, but they pose less threat than a zebra. Cheetahs also dine upon casaba melon, various small tasty animals, and eggs. A few brash male cheetahs have been known to take down giraffe calves, but I regard this is an anomaly, as these individuals were captive raised (Becoming a Tiger).

I am a vegetarian. That is not to say, however, that I feel no predatory urges. I do- and when I’ve looked at gazelle, they do look rather tasty and helpless. But I overcome these, as I do not need to eat meat- if I did, I would. But why take a life when you do not have to?

On the other hand, the neighborhood squirrels are terrified of me, and with good reason. I chase them- and I have no patience for stalking. Instead, I simply explode into a run and go after them, and invariably lose. Still, it’s delightful to see them scurry up the trees. Pigeons are also fun to chase, especially if they are the stupid kind that lands again a few meters away, though where I live there aren’t any.

Social organization is probably one of the biggest places where cheetahs diverge from the feline norm. Most cats are solitary and asocial. Cheetahs have been described as asocial, but the males form groups. Of one thousand seven hundred ninety-four cheetahs in East Africa twenty seven percent were solitary, thirty-four percent were in pairs, nineteen percent were in groups of three, and twenty percent were in groups of four to twelve cheetahs (Graham 1966). Different results were found in the Serengeti (of two hundred forty-four cats), where fifty-two percent were solitary and only three percent were in groups of four- though this was a smaller sample size (Schallar 1972). Eaton notes that some groups even are composed of males and females. McLaughlin, on the other hand, found that there were no mixed groups of cheetahs in the very same park as Eaton. The papers were each published in 1970 from what I can find, thus it is reasonable to conclude that they were done at roughly the same general time period. Either the two mixed groups dissolved or the females died. Generally, I leave the chapter with the impression that cheetah social structure isn’t what you’d call exceptionally fixed, but fluid.

It is worth noting that the book I am using, Cheetah Under the Sun, while apparently well-researched, was written in the 1970s and is more or less out of date.

Despite this, some still apparently consider cheetahs to be solitary. Personally, I feel that that’s rubbish. The point remains that unfortunately we seem to know little about cheetah social structure. Since 1970, the resources I have found seem to agree that male cheetahs often form coalitions- two or three cats.

This, in my opinion, translates rather well over to me. I must say that the idea of a loosely bound social group appeals to me. The amount of socialization I want to engage in fluctuates a great deal. I suppose I form permanent bonds, but their strength changes a great deal and over rapid periods of time- a month or two, it often seems.

Play is another place where I diverge from my wild cousins. Real cheetahs play vigorously (Adamson 1969, found in Caro 1995), of which common behaviors are crouching, stalking, pouncing, and chasing (Schallar 1972). Judging from the context in the article (Caro 1995), the quote of which is, “Cheetahs have been noted for their vigorous play (Adamason 1969) which consists of crouching, stalking, pouncing, and chasing (Schallar 1972) and cheetah cubs knock each other during play with the typical paw slap that is later used to knock prey off balance (Prater 1935),” it seems that adult cheetahs play as well. In cheetah terms, I would probably be more or less an adult, albeit a young one. I did play-fight a fair amount in my youth, but I hesitate to attribute this to therianthropy (But in my opinion, as I have stated before, therianthropy is an end result rather than a process, so while not innately a therianthropic behavior, play-fighting could be therianthropic because it is expressed in a therianthropic way. However, my memory is far too fuzzy to say if this was the case- the paw slap I do not believe I did (though a cheetah cub would probably see it) and while I remember a few instances of feline-like behavior during playfighting, those were exceptions in my memory.).

My main idea of play that corresponds to anything a cheetah might do is the chase (other ideas of play are chess, logic puzzles, etc). I don’t bother trying to actually catch anything, I know I won’t- but it is fun to suddenly bolt after a squirrel and watch it run up the nearest tree, scolding me from above. And there’s something immensely satisfying about it as well. This does not mean by any measure that I am adverse to play-fighting, and sometimes I fantasize of fighting with claws. But I’m in the SCA. Whenever I play-fight, I use boffer weapons.

Being a cheetah therian seems often to be an exercise in contradictions. You are at once asocial and intensely social. You could live with either, but at least for me, I want both, and I’m bound and determined to have both. You are a predator and territorial, but not very aggressive compared to other big cats.

I really don’t know how to end this essay, I’ll admit it. For a summary of my behaviors, I don’t think there’s a neat conclusion. But I do have a message to any other cheetah therians.

If you’re like me and I’m right, then you’ll feel both an intense with to be around people, and maybe an urge for close contact. I know I do (though I don’t act on it, for the simple reason that the human part of me is insecure). But at the same time, you want to be alone. Can’t have both at once. But you can have both in your life.

— Citrakayah