Chester getting insulin from Sizwe

Cape Town - Chester the diabetic cheetah is no scaredy-cat when it comes to receiving his daily insulin injections and has become a symbol of bravery for children living with the illness.

And with World Diabetes Day on Friday, Chester – who has Type 1 diabetes – also did his part in creating awareness about the disease that affects 3.5 million people in South Africa, and 360 million globally.

While diabetes is very common among people and pets it is very rare for wild animals to suffer from it.

“Animals in the wild with Type 1 diabetes will surely die, so there is no way to tell how common it is. But I believe that it is extremely uncommon, and Chester’s treatment is followed with interest by professors at Onderstepoort (Veterinary Academic Hospital), as well as professors in Cape Town who use Chester’s case in lectures,” said Mandy Freeman, founder of the Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.

Tenikwa, a centre just outside Plettenberg Bay that cares for and rehabilitates injured or abandoned wild animals, has been Chester’s home for the past eight years after the cheetah had a rocky start in life.

Chester was born at the Daniell Cheetah Breeding Centre near Kirkwood in the Eastern Cape. “The female cheetah was inexperienced and had her cubs out in the veld in very bad winter weather. One cub died during the night and I was asked to go up and raise the two remaining cubs. I arrived on Chester’s second day of life. The second cub was too weak to sustain and passed away, leaving only Chester,” she said.

It was a nerve-wracking experience, especially in light of the fact that mortality among cheetah cubs is about 80 percent.

“Chester, however, survived, and grew up to be a strong and healthy cheetah.”

Because he was born in captivity, Chester was not suitable for release and became part of the Tenikwa programme.

When Chester was about 18 months old he suddenly fell ill, and began losing weight.

“Our vet initially put him on a course of antibiotics, but his situation worsened until he collapsed and had to be rushed into an emergency operation. Four vets operated on Chester and it was touch and go whether he would survive.

“They were not sure whether he would survive or whether his condition was treatable, but he did, and has made a remarkable recovery.”

Freeman said the cheetah’s fitness level played a major role in his speedy recovery.

Chester now requires daily insulin injections to survive. Although the quantity is very small, when he does not receive insulin his weight drops and his sugar levels spike to life-threatening levels.

Freeman said Chester had become an inspiration to children with diabetes.

Garden Route Media