Rewilded cheetah raising four cubs against the odds at East Cape reserve

Nkanyiso, a  cheetah born in captivity, where she lived the first four years of her life, has welcomed a litter of cubs to the Nyosi Wildlife Reserve in the Eastern Cape, a year after her arrival.

The young cheetah was introduced into the rewilding enclosure on April 19 2023.

She arrived at the reserve as part of the cheetah metapopulation initiative to rewild genetically important individuals.

Nyosi was earmarked to be her new home, and with this being its first attempt at such a rewilding, it teamed up with three conservation organisations to advise and support the project — the Metapopulation Initiative, WeWild Africa and the Global Humane Conservation Fund of Africa.

Nkanyiso’s hunting instincts were already there and rangers started to notice her stalking and chasing hare along the enclosure fence.

She was released from her enclosure exactly two months after her arrival, on June 19, when she took her first steps as a wild cheetah on the Nyosi Wildlife Reserve.

Nkanyiso quickly became a self-sufficient and independent hunter within three months.

A further two male cheetahs were introduced to the reserve in July, and she quickly adapted to sharing the reserve with them.

Nearly a year later, on April 1 2024, Nkanyiso was located by Nyosi guides with a serious injury.

Due to her previous relationship with people, she knew to seek out the vehicle for help.

She was badly injured and needed to be darted and moved back to the enclosure for further monitoring.

Three days later, they managed to source a portable X-ray machine, and upon examination, realised she was lactating, meaning she must have a litter of cubs somewhere on the reserve.

With Nkanyiso already in the boma for three days, concern grew for the cubs.

Because her collar had not worked for two months, rangers could not trace her previous routes to find the cubs.

The X-rays, meanwhile, confirmed her front right leg was broken and so releasing her to find the cubs was extremely risky.

Two guides were deployed to look for the litter on the 2,500-hectare reserve.

The hopes of success were low — but they were ultimately found.

All four cubs were rescued and taken back to the enclosure in Nkanyiso.

There was a risk the mother would reject the cubs due to human interaction and the time lapsed.

But she was soon grooming her cubs and showed she had accepted them again.

A few days later, Nkanyiso received surgery at a local veterinary clinic where a metal plate was inserted in her broken leg.

It may take up to six months to heal, but the good news is that on April 20, she was walking on her broken leg for the first time again.

“This amazing story of saving Nkanyiso, the mother with a broken leg, is also a conservation story that should be shared internationally,” Nyosi director and shareholder  Adrian Gardiner said.

“Her successful operation and being back with her cubs is [heart-warming],” he said.

The reserve’s chief operating office, Cameron Doyle, said: “It’s truly amazing to see how the landscape of this reserve has changed over the last few years.

“If you asked the owners, who purchased and rehabilitated this land, if they imagined that cheetah cubs would be born on this reserve, I believe they would have said no.”

Nkanyiso’s cubs will remain in the enclosure with her while the team continue to look after their welfare with the hopes of rewilding them all when the time is right.

“Rewilding efforts help protect critical species from the sixth mass extinction,” Global Humane chief executive  Dr Robin Ganzert said.

“We are immensely proud to have helped Nkanyiso and her four cubs through this initiative.”



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