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Fastest cheetah on record dies at 15

Posted: 3:38 PM, Jan 21, 2016
Updated: 2016-01-21 15:38:08-05

CINCINNATI – Sahara, the cheetah at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens who had been the fastest clocked on record, died Wednesday. She was 15.

Zoo staff euthanized Sahara, also known as Sarah, due to a diminishing quality of life, the zoo announced Thursday. At 15, Sahara had outlasted the average cheetah lifespan of 8 to 12 years.

“She lived a full life and was a phenomenal ambassador for her species,” said Linda Castaneda, lead trainer for the zoo’s Cat Ambassador Program. “Sarah was the queen bee around here.  She had a very expressive face that communicated what she wanted. And we obliged. She was a dynamic individual and we were privileged to know her and learn from her. We will all miss the princess cat.”

Sahara came to the zoo when she was just six weeks old and was raised by Cathryn Hilker, the founder of the zoo’s Cat Ambassador Program. She was one of the first cheetah cubs to be raised with a puppy companion, an Anatolian shepherd named Alexa, a model of what has since become a common practice.

“It was an exceptional relationship, one that every keeper and trainer hopes to have with animals in their care,” Castaneda said. “Even in her retirement from the zoo, Cathryn continued to be a constant in Sarah’s life, visiting her earlier this week to say her goodbyes.”

Sahara visited hundreds of schools as a cat ambassador, helping to raise awareness about the plight of cheetahs, the zoo said.  Cheetahs are endangered, and their population has shrunk from 100,000 in 1900 to between 9,000 and 12,000 today.

She also appeared in magazines, a commercial and a 2012 National Geographic special, in which she ran 100 meters in 5.95 seconds, breaking a world record she had set. Her top speed was clocked at 61 mph.