48" x 65" unframed
55" x 72" framed
© SHELLEY HESSE 2015
In Zimbabwe, the cheetah will dip its tail into the Zambezi River to bob for Tiger fish when desperate for food. I was so moved to learn of this and spent days watching videos and studying photographs, as I was unable to make it to Africa to watch this phenomenon in person. One sunny afternoon, the lines started to appear and the skeleton, or bones of the piece, began to form in pencil, with the watercolor and gouache eventually popping to life over the next few weeks. In many pieces, as in this one, I paint the animal safely tucked into a place of serenity and beauty. The cheetah's eyes however ask some very big questions. What will be of his fate? How much longer will he survive? They also ask for help in a situation where these magnificent cats are powerless and completely dependent on human intervention to save them.
The cheetahs are said to be the most docile of the big cats. They inhabit most of Africa and parts of Iran. Shy and elusive, their beautiful tawny eyes seem to hold all of the sadness of the world, only highlighted by the black tear lines that run down their faces. Cheetahs are unique, a unique species belonging to a unique genus- there is no other animal like it. They are the fastest of all land animals, capable of short sprints as fast as 75 miles per hour. Their long legs, lithe bodies, and an incredibly flexible spine and strong tail allow it to sprint and twist as they take down their prey. A larger than normal heart allows it to sprint in a very short space of time. They differ from other cats in their method of hunting. They do not ambush their prey, but rather approach in plain sight and charge. The cheetah's prey mainly consists of gazelles, impalas, or antelopes; however, if large prey cannot be found or caught, the cheetah will survive on birds, lizards, fish, and even insects.
According to the IUCN, cheetahs have disappeared from more than 90% of their historic range. They still occur widely, but sparsely, in Africa, but even there they have disappeared from more than three-quarters of the areas where they were formerly present. The cheetah once occurred throughout much of Asia. Within the last century, it was present from the shores of the Mediterranean and the Arabian peninsula, north to the Caspian and Aral Seas, and west from Uzbekistan to India. They have largely disappeared from these regions. In part because of live captures, as they were used as hunting animals by the aristocracy, but mainly due to declines in wild populations of the various animals they formerly preyed upon, namely gazelles. There has also been considerable direct killing of cheetahs in Asia as well as commercial development of their habitat. Today wild Asiatic cheetahs survive only in Iran, where they are critically endangered.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Defenders of Wildlife, Panthera, Wildlife Conservation Society, Wildlife Alliance, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), International Fund for Animal Welfare, African Wildlife Foundation, People for The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA), Earthjustice, The Nature Conservancy, and Defenders of Wildlife are only some of the incredibly inspiring not-for-profits who work so tirelessly to protect the cheetah and all of our magnificent animals.
“I have studied many philosophers and many cats. The wisdom of cats is infinitely superior.”