Marthie Nickols and her research at the Centre


Meet Marthie, an MSc student from the University of Pretoria. She joined us about a month ago in order to conduct research on whether or not the cheetah lure is effective in creating a healthier and more natural environment for captive cheetahs. This will determine whether or not the lure should be enforced for captive cheetahs as environmental enrichment.

The cheetah lure is a machine that simulates the animal’s natural hunting behaviour– prompting the cheetah to run. It consists of a pulley system and a rope to which a mop head is tied. This ‘lure’, or mop head, simulates a small animal running through the grass. The cheetah will instinctively set off on a high speed chase over approximately 80m.

Marthie uses 10 cheetahs from HESC as part of her trial. These animals are separated into two uniform groups of five. The one group acts as a control group and the other as the test group. The test group animals will run on each of the feeding days and a visual health assessment will be done for both groups every second day when the cheetahs are fed. Once every two weeks blood will be collected from the animals of both groups to test their overall health. Some parameters are tested in the HESC hospital itself. The rest of the tests are sent away to laboratories in Johannesburg.


The trial will take place over a period of seven weeks.

Here’s what Marthie has to say about her research and being at HESC:

What exactly are you studying?

“MSc (Agric) Animal Science: Production Physiology.”

What made you decide to do your research at HESC?

“My MSc Supervisor, Professor EC Webb, is a member on the advisory board for HESC. He recommended HESC as an ideal centre for the type of project I was planning on doing.”

What are you enjoying most about being at HESC?

“I enjoy having a place to apply the knowledge that I have gained through my studies as well as having the opportunity to make a difference.”

What do you hope to achieve through your research?

“I hope that my research is going to make a contribution to cheetahs in captivity and that we can make a change – not only to keep them from becoming extinct but to give them a better quality of life.”

What are your goals for the future?

“To become a top researcher in the development of supplements for large wild felids in captivity. This is in order to reduce the amount of disorders related to nutrition.”

Thank you Marthie for doing such wonderful research for cheetahs in captivity and we hope that you achieve all your goals!