A very long time ago, when the earth was first created, all the animals came down onto the savanna. The animals, birds and insects were all different shapes and different colours. When the cheetah first came to the earth, just like all other animals, it shook its body and stretched its legs, and took a deep breath of the new clean air. The cheetah thought if felt very good to be alive. Each animal had to get used to its own body, so the cheetah started running and found out it could run very, very fast.
The cheetah ran and ran across the vast plains of the world. After a time of wandering the plains alone, the cheetah became lonely, and decided to look for friends of its own kind. One day, the cheetah, with its great eyesight, spotted some large cats off in the distance and eagerly went running as fast as she could toward these cats. As she was running toward them, one of the cats, which was much larger than the others, stood up and roared. The loud noise frightened the cheetah and she dug her claws into the dirt and came to abrupt halt. The cat was a big male lion, and he roared out to the cheetah in a very low booming voice, "Who are you and what do you want?"
The cheetah, which is much smaller in size than a lion and who by nature is a very shy and timid animal, said "I am lonely and have been searching the savanna trying to find friends of my own kind."
The lion roared, "Well, you are not a lion! Look at your legs and body, you are much thinner than we are. And look at your feet, you have claws like a dogs. Your claws do not retract all the way back into your feet like ours do. You are not a cat, you are a dog. So, you better run away fast and try to find someone in your own family."
The cheetah lowered her head and put her tail down, and crept away feeling a bit discouraged. She thought big cats were very unfriendly. The cheetah continued her search looking for a friend of her own kind. The days went by. Then one day, the cheetah saw a pack of wild dogs playing in the sun. The cheetah went racing up to the pack. The whole pack was yelping and barking furiously. The cheetah stopped immediately, and the pack leader yelped at her, "Who are you and what do you want?"
The cheetah began to tell the wild dogs her story about trying to find a family of her own. During her search, she was scared by a lion and saddened when he told her that the cheetah was not a cat, but a dog. The whole pack of wild dogs howled in laughter, and barked at her, "You are not a dog at all. Look at your round head and ears, and your rough tongue. They are like a cat's. Your tail is long just like the other cats. You are not a dog at all!" The pack chased the cheetah off, biting at her heels.
This time the cheetah raced away very fast because she was scared. After running a safe distance from the dogs, the cheetah laid down to rest under a big camel thorn tree. She felt sad. She thought about how the lion roared and did not want her, and how the wild dogs yelped and bit at her feet, and she felt sadder and sadder. The cheetah felt so sad that she started to cry. She was very lonely.
The cheetah did not realise that any other animals were near her. A giraffe had walked up quietly while the cheetah was crying. The giraffe, looking down at the cheetah with its big brown eyes, asked, "Why are you crying?"
The cheetah was very surprised when the giraffe spoke. The cheetah looked up tearfully at the giraffe and proceeded to tell her sad story about the lions roaring and telling her she was not a cat, and the wild dogs chasing her and saying she was not a dog.
Sniffling, the cheetah said, "I have been sitting here crying all day. I have cried for so long that the tears have left marks in my face."
A bird that was flying by the camel thorn tree saw the beautiful cheetah and chirped, "I have traveled throughout this land and you, cheetah, are the most splendid and unique of all the cats I have seen."
The cheetah has had those tear marks ever since that day to remind her that she need never be sad again. She enjoys her time alone and she chirps like a bird to show how proud she is of being the most unique of all the cats.
Click here to listen to the sound the cheetah makes.
There are a few different versions of these stories about how the cheetah gained its tear-stained face, but I like this one as children relate well to it. It is a great story for those who are struggling to fit in with their peers. They can see how beautiful the cheetah is and are always impressed by how fast it can run so see it as a powerful, impressive animal. It can start some great conversations about how we all have our own unique talents and don't need to be like everyone else.