Frank Gilbert with his pet cheetah, Malika.

Frank Gilbert was like any other Valley resident. Whenever he ran errands, he enjoyed taking his pets along for the ride. There was just one difference – instead of a dog or cat riding in the backseat, Frank brought along his pet cheetah.

You read that right: a pet cheetah. Back in the 1980’s, Frank lived off of Exeter Boulevard in Arcadia, where he raised and cared for many types of wildlife, including a lion, otters, and exotic birds. But his pride and joy were 13 cheetahs who lived in his backyard enclosure. 

After a visit to Africa, Frank became fascinated by the animal and decided to acquire one of his own. His first was procured by a veterinarian, who wanted to see if Frank could nurse the animal back to health. 

After that success, Frank was inspired to start breeding the animal in his own backyard. He set up multiple enclosures measuring 100 by 30 feet, with tree stumps and grass, as well as sprinklers to keep the animals cool. 

Frank stated that even though the temperatures in Arizona are higher than in Africa, especially during the summer, the climate was almost ideal for cheetahs. 

Instead of following the rules from the “cheetah experts,” who said that breeding would be impossible because the animals wouldn’t breed in areas smaller than five acres and that tame cheetahs couldn’t breed, Frank did just that. In 1974, he welcomed his first litter of five cubs. Born just before Christmas, they were the focus of his Christmas cards.

Frank attributed his success as a breeder to the cheetah’s backyard home, saying that they don’t have the stresses that they would in a zoo. Plus, they were kept on a healthy diet and had plenty of space to roam around, with the added bonus of hitting the streets with Frank. He even took them into the Old Valley National Bank at 44th Street and Camelback. 

Frank, who was the only cheetah breeder in the United States at the time, said, “The guys who set up the rules about how to breed them didn’t know what they were talking about.”

Once the cheetahs were at a healthy age, Frank would sell them to zoos all around the country.