First Captive-Born Cheetah Released onto Amakhala Game Reserve

Amakhala Game Reserve is proud to be the destination of choice for the first translocation of a captive-born male cheetah from Kuzuko Lodge. Ivory, a 5-year-old male cheetah, was successfully relocated to Amakhala Game Reserve’s Carnarvon Dale area in September this year, where he is settling in well.

It is the first time that a cheetah in the South African Cheetah Metapopulation project, managed by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), has gone from the wilding area of Kuzuko Lodge to a wild reserve. It is a landmark intitiative for Amakhala during their 20-year celebrations this year, growing the contribution the reserve has made to cheetah conservation in the region.

This winter, Amakhala joined the Ashia Cheetah Conservation and Kuzuko Lodge Breeding, Wilding and Release Project that primarily focuses on the wilding and introduction of captive-bred cheetahs into the protected wild.

Hand-raised and previously captive cheetah are translocated from other parts of the country to a bigger area at Kuzuko Lodge in the Karoo. Here they go through a wilding process, including learning to hunt, to give them a chance at a wild, free-roaming existence.

Thanks to the wilding partnership, Ivory is 100% self-sustaining and capable of hunting and looking after himself. The hope is that Ivory will breed with the female cheetah of wild origin, which was also recently released into the area.

Historical bounty records indicate that cheetah were once plentiful in the Eastern Cape, but were wiped out due to hunting and conflict with farmers. Since the reintroduction of cheetah to the reserve in 2003, Amakhala Game Reserve has been a source of wild, hardy and healthy cheetah for the EWT Cheetah Metapopulation Project, and more than 20 Amakhala-born cheetah have been redistributed to other game reserves.

The purpose of the Project is to strengthen the gene pool and to secure a viable cheetah metapopulation in South Africa to prevent further decline of cheetah numbers in the wild. A protected species, the cheetah is classified as Vulnerable According to the IUCN Red List and is South Africa’s second-most threatened carnivore after the wild dog.

“Cheetah are struggling as a wild species owing to captivity, poaching or being killed by farmers or on the roads, so this initiative of rewilding captive cats with Ashia and Kuzuko Lodge is a fantastic way to increase the genetic diversity in the cheetah metapopulation,” says Mark Palmer, Reserve Manager, Amakhala Game Reserve. “We have always worked with wild, free-roaming cheetah, so this is new to us – but we are very excited to be the first reserve to introduce a cheetah into the wild that has gone through the wilding process.”

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“The release of captive-bred animals has become an important conservation tool for restoring threatened and endangered wildlife populations,” says Chantal Rischard, Founder of Ashia. “The translocation of animals for conservation purposes requires in-depth planning to ensure long-term chances of survival. Release sites are carefully chosen after a wide range of factors is taken into account. Amakhala met all of Ashia’s requirements, and their dedicated team and strong conservation initiatives made it the perfect home for the first cheetah to leave Kuzuko and the wilding programme.”

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“Wild, free-roaming cheetah are a priority conservation species on Amakhala and we are very excited to be involved with this pioneering and sorely needed wilding project. We are also proud to be working with Ashia, Kuzuko and the EWT in furthering the cheetah metapopulation genetic scope and playing such a vital role in ensuring the survival of this unique species,” says Palmer. “This addition to our core programme is intended to further this conservation effort as the wilded cheetah produce the next generation that will be integrated into the broader wild metapopulation.”

Few other game reserves in the Eastern Cape have achieved a more significant contribution to cheetah conservation or offered such high quality sightings. This, together with Amakhala’s “Protected Environment” status as one of eight Eastern Cape reserves in the newly-enacted Indalo Game Reserves Protected Environment – makes it a premier game reserve in the Eastern Cape.

Guests will be able to view the wilded cheetah as they revel in their newfound freedom, and savour the knowledge that this threatened and iconic species is being afforded more opportunity to flourish.

Any questions or queries regarding Amakhala’s cheetah management plans can be directed to the Reserve Manager: manager@amakhala.co.za. For more information please visit www.ewt.org.za or www.kuzuko.com or www.ashia.co.za.

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Facts about Cheetah (Acionyx jubatus)

The feline icon of speed and grace

The cheetah is not only the fastest, but also the oldest of all the big cats. Their bodies are designed around one evolutionary advantage: speed. Cheetahs can reach a top speed burst of 120km/h, with strides in excess of eight metres. They’ve outlived ice ages and sabre-tooth cats and remained unchanged for three million years.

Interestingly, cheetahs do not roar, but have a distinctive bird-like cheep, and their skeletons resemble the long, thin, fragile bones of a bird. Unlike other cats, they have small jaws, a weak bite and claws too blunt for climbing trees. They are non-aggressive and, out in the wild, cheetah cubs are heavily predated.

On the brink of extinction

Sadly, with fewer than 10,000 remaining in the wild, cheetah is Africa’s most endangered big cat and at great risk of extinction. Its numbers have declined by 90% in the last 100 years. There are just 1,150 cheetah in SA, the third-largest population on earth, after Botswana with 2,000 cheetah and Namibia with 2,500.

In addition to habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict, one of the biggest dangers to cheetah is that they tame well and lend themselves to touch-experience safaris, captivity in breeding centres, sanctuaries or rehabilitation facilities, and as exotic household pets. In addition, earlier attempts to relocate cheetah from commercial farmland to small fenced reserves were unsuccessful.