The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is one of the world’s most threatened and endangered big cats in Africa. As they have disappeared from most of their former range, fragmented populations occur in protected areas, many of which consist of private game reserves. These small reserves and conservancies retain a central role in the conservation of animal and plant populations, particularly through metapopulation management. It is highly unlikely that cheetah numbers will increase outside of protected areas due to the threats of commercial and subsistence farming. Thus, the only hope for the cheetah as a species is to reintroduce/re-establish cheetah back into protected areas within their former ranges whereby these isolated populations can act as a genetic bank for possible re-establishment of free-roaming cheetah in the future.
With its ongoing research and monitoring activities, the Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve (GMPGR) is an excellent venue for the release of wild cheetah to supplement its current cheetah population. In October 2008, two wild male cheetah were purchased and relocated to Garonga Safari Camp (www.garonga.com) – the northern extent of the GMPGR – from the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Trust. After a period of acclimatisation in a boma, they were released into the open system in December 2008. Post release, the cheetah have been monitored extensively through the use of radio collars and telemetry equipment. This equipment has been kindly sponsored by Kellogg’s™.
A female cheetah, was delivered in late April by Deon Cilliers of the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Trust. Like the two males, she will undergo an acclimitisation period of about 3 months before being released onto the Greater reserve. The successful relocations of these cheetah are a vital tool in the management of this critically threatened and endangered species.
Relocated Cheetah Update – November 2009
Aya, the female cheetah relocated and released onto GMPGR in July 2009 is doing well and has settled into her new home. During the week of the 19th October 2009, she had a narrow escape though…. One of the owners of Pidwa (the northern section of GMPGR) saw the resident big black-maned lion chasing Aya in front of his deck on the Selati River. She was seen later that day and all appeared well. The following day, she made a kill and was reported to be in fantastic condition with a full belly within the same vicinity.
The two collared males relocated and released onto GMPGR in December 2008 have also settled in well. Recently, whilst on a routine fence patrol, fence patroller Ben Tshinyelo rode into four angry cheetahs on his motorbike. Whilst he scrambled for cover, he reported that the two collared males had locked horns with the other cheetah male coalition on the reserve. The next morning, the two sets of brothers were still posturing and scent marking but the hierarchy appeared to be established as the fur had stopped flying! The two coalitions have since parted and both are doing well.
These relocated cheetah form part of the De Wildt Wild Cheetah Program and were purchased by Bernie Smith of Garonga Safari Camp and donated to GMPGR. All the relocated cheetah have telemetry collars sponsored by Kelloggs ® .
Update on reintroduced cheetah – April 2011
Sadly, after 2.5 years since relocation to the Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve, one of the two male cheetah reintroduced from De Wildt, has been killed. Cheetah are often in conflict with other predators such as lion and hyena that compete with them for smaller prey resources and habitat. Though the missing cheetah’s remains were not found, the collar sponsored by Kelloggs® was found mangled and chewed up and the cat is presumed deceased. Though solitary, his brother remains healthy and fit. Read more about this in the March 2011 GMPGR Research Newsletter.
Aya, the female cheetah reintroduced from De Wildt has relocated herself to the neighbouring Balule Game Reserve! Cheetah are adept at moving through and under fences and Aya’s self-relocation is proof thereof. Though a loss for the Makalali system, Aya is contributing to the bigger picture of metapopulation management in true fashion by spreading her genes through the network of protected areas that surround the Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve.