11 Aug New female cheetah release
In late 2016, Pidwa was approached by the ‘Endangered Wildlife Trust’ (EWT) to take on the project of re-wilding a young cheetah female. Down in Mountain Zebra National Park, her mother was killed by lions when she was just 10 months old leaving her orphaned. In the wild, cheetah cubs only leave their mother between 16 and 18 months old. Now too young, and unable to hunt and fend for herself, she was captured and placed in a holding boma. Work then got underway with the process of moving her to Pidwa.
As many of you will know, we had a very successful (and similar) story with female cheetah ‘Kusala’. After her re-wilding and release she is now rearing her second cub, a young male who is almost ready for independence. With that success under our belts we will hope to do the same for this young female. It is a long process with many steps but in July we completed the second stage.
Predators have extremely strong homing instincts which means they try very hard to return to their original range after being moved into a new area. Many historical translocations have shown that a “soft release” technique has a much higher chance of being successful. This means holding the animal in a small, predator proof boma initially and physically stopping them being able to return home. The boma period is for at least 3 months and gives the predator time to adjust to their new surroundings. The sights, sounds and smells will all be different and this period gives them time to adapt.
Because of her very young age, our cheetah girl spent 6 months in the boma. She was fed impala while being held, every 3 to 4 days. Stage 2 took place this month when Dr Peter Rogers came to dart, collar and move her. Her first step is to move into the Buffalo camp. Here she will pick up predator awareness skills from the leopards she meets but not yet have to contend with lions so have a chance to practice her hunting skills. The first few weeks are crucial and the team will be monitoring her daily which is one of the reasons she has been fitted with a radio telemetry tracking collar. Where necessary, we may still need to provide her with food in the first few months.
So far she’s doing great. Although we have fed her one impala, we have also found her with her first confirmed kill, a large adult male impala. A brilliant start for “Midnight”, we hope there will be plenty more to come. Once happy that she is hunting well and settled in she will be darted one last time and moved into the main, open system. Here she will have to contend with many other predators which is where this soft release, gradual process will really help her. Obviously our biggest hope is that she will soon meet up with the male cheetah on the reserve and be able to rear her own litters of cubs. Check in on our facebook page http://www.facebook.com/Askari.Wilderness.Conservation.Programme for regular updates of her progress.