Captive-born cheetah settling in well at Addo reserve
Captive-born cheetah Jasmin is responding favourably to her gentle introduction to the wild, thanks to the efforts of a very patient team of conservationists at Kuzuko Lodge in the Eastern Cape and the vision of a non-profit organisation based in Paarl.
Jasmin is the first cat from the Ashia Cheetah Release Programme to be “wilded”. She is in the initial holding boma at Kuzuko, in the greater Addo area, where she is being introduced to the elements under careful watch.
Ashia Cheetah Conservation was set up to fund and manage the release programme of Ashia, a new world-class sanctuary and working farm outside Paarl.
The organisation donated Jasmin to Kuzuko while also funding her transportation and veterinary bills during the relocation process.
Jasmin, described as feisty and inquisitive, is in the same boma De Lange and his team used to rehabilitate Sylvester the lion, which has been at Kuzuko since 2016.
The larger of the two bomas was also the initial home for Nika and Angel, two orphan lioness cubs raised to be wild from just five months old. They were successfully released into the reserve where they now hunt and thrive, forming a pride with Sylvester and another lion, Fielies.
Following her journey from Ashia’s partner project, Cheetah Experience Bloemfontein, Jasmin was released into the boma at the end of August after an uneventful seven-hour journey. Kuzuko reserve general manager Gerhard de Lange, said she was curious about her surroundings from the minute she took her first steps at Kuzuko, and with no prompting was displaying all the natural instincts he had looked for when he first met her in her enclosure in Bloemfontein several months ago.
“Sadly cheetahs are easily domesticated, which is one of the reasons they are under threat,” De Lange said. “When looking for a cheetah female [for] Kuzuko, where we already have two male cheetahs, I was introduced to Jasmin and spent several hours observing her from a distance. “She showed a number of signs that identified her as the perfect candidate, including constantly looking up and around her while she feeds.
“She has already fed on her first ever carcass – a huge litmus test for her,” he said. “At first she was wary of the carcass, but soon realised this was food and approached it in exactly the same way a cheetah in the wild would. “She disembowelled it, ate the innards, cracked the cartilage at the joints and devoured the whole animal – all of this in just four days from her arrival.
“No one has taught her, no one prompted her, we keep our distance entirely and let mother nature do its work,” he added.
Jasmin’s eventual release will be part of a carefully planned programme. From the smaller boma there will be a soft release into a larger 300ha area, where she will be encouraged to hunt on her own. Here she will also be able to patrol the fence and be exposed to other animals on the reserve, including lions.
“The lions will be her biggest test. She will need to show signs of fear and respect for the lions as they are a cheetah’s biggest natural enemy. “When she shows she is wary of them, has been able to hunt on her own and exhibited other behaviour traits we are looking for, we will be able to then start calculating her ultimate release into the 15,000ha reserve,” he said. “If at any stage during her wilding process she does not exhibit the signs we are looking for, I will pull the plug on the process.”
De Lange said the SA cheetah population was under threat in part because of habitat loss, but also as a result of poaching and the ongoing trade in live animals.“The success of this project will not only help us increase the cheetah population at Kuzuko, but will lay the foundation for a much bigger conservation future for these big cats.” Ashia co-founder Chantal Rischard said the cheetah was Africa’s most endangered big cat. From 100,000 in 1900, the numbers have dropped to less than 7,000 today. “Ethical breeding in captivity has become essential to ensure the long-term survival and viable genetic diversity of the species.”
Other captive-born cheetahs will be released at selected private reserves in SA through Ashia’s release programme.
For more information on Kuzuko, which is managed by the Legacy Hotels & Resorts Group, visit www.kuzuko.com or www.kuzukolodge.co.za or call 042-203-1700. For more on Ashia visit www.ashia.co.za or call 021-201-4774.