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Cheetah at Kuzuko Game Reserve

Cheetah Release For Metapopulation Legacy

Port Elizabeth, South Africa, 14 March 2019 – The release of a captive-born female cheetah named Jasmin onto Kuzuko Lodge, part of the Legacy Hotels & Resorts Group, at the end of August 2018, has given birth to a pioneering conservation initiative and has marked the start of a promising partnership formed between Kuzuko Lodge and Ashia Cheetah Conservation NPO.

After initially spending some time in a boma, Jasmin was released onto a 300ha Wilding Section. This turned out to be the most perfect set-up for her fitness and hunting training as Jasmin’s instincts kicked in almost immediately. In the space of days, she made her first kill and has been successfully hunting ever since.

Cheetah Jasmin on her first kill

Cheetah Breeding, Wilding & Release Project

Monitoring Jasmin’s first amazing months of wilding and successful hunting, lead to the creation of the ‘Cheetah Breeding, Wilding & Release Project’ which is based on two main objectives:

  1. The first objective is to establish the Cheetah Breeding Project in a secure but natural environment provided on Kuzuko’s game reserve. Financed by both parties, Kuzuko started with the fencing and internal set-up of the Breeding Section in 2018. This is an area of close to 600ha where several captive-born cats are now able to hunt, mate and give birth in the wild. The predator-free area (with no lions and leopards) allows close monitoring of adult animals and pregnant females as well as their future offspring.
  2. The second objective is to sensitise them to the wild by lowering the major threats cheetah cubs face and thus considerably increas their survival rate – all while being raised and ‘educated’ by their mother. The protective instinct of the mothers should kick in to lead the cubs away from lions patrolling the fence, thus sensitising the cubs to bigger predators.
Two cheetah cubs in a holding boma at Kuzuko
Two cheetah cubs were recently introduced into the holding boma at Kuzuko.

“We partnered with Kuzuko as the game reserve offers the most dedicated wildlife management under Gerhard de Lange, and a perfect set-up for captive-born and captive-raised cats to gain the necessary fitness and hunting skills for their future life in the wild. Extending the initial wilding and release concept with the breeding venture opens the door to a whole new level of conservation,” states Chantal Rischard from Ashia.

The already existing 300ha Wilding Section where Jasmin started her walk into the wild, will furthermore be used to prepare captive-born adult or adolescent cats for their release into the protected wild of other game reserves in South Africa.

Lion Wilding Shows The Way

Jasmin and any subsequent cats roaming this section are in good company as De Lange and his team first used it to rehabilitate Sylvester the famous run-away lion from the Karoo, who has been in residence at Kuzuko since May 2016.

Male lion at Kuzuko

This section was also the initial home for Nika and Angel, two orphan lioness cubs who were raised to be wild from a mere five months old. Both were successfully released into the reserve where they now hunt and thrive, forming a pride with Sylvester and his male counterpart Fielies (another lion on the reserve who had an uncertain future). 

Lioness pride with cubs at Kuzuko

Recently the lionesses both had cubs, sparking the conservation success story that inspired De Lange to do the same with the captive-born cheetah. He used a completely hands-off approach with these lionesses, meaning he is unable to walk with them, touch them or call them, the same approach that will be used with the cheetah who form part of the new initiative.

Cheetah Metapopulation Project

At this stage, the 300ha Wilding Section is home to a 5-year old male cheetah who is undergoing the wilding and fitness phase and is already hunting regularly. He is earmarked for release on a game reserve in the Eastern Cape by the middle of 2019.

Kuzuko and Ashia both closely work with the management of South Africa’s Cheetah Metapopulation Project of the EWT (Endangered Wildlife Trust). The team at EWT  assists by identifying suitable game reserves for wilded cheetah and provides invaluable advice where needed.

Male cheetah Ivory at Kuzuko

Kuzuko’s Breeding and Wilding Sections are at the moment home to six cheetah, consisting of three adult females, one adult male and two adolescent siblings.

“All adult cats made their first kill a mere 6-10 days after being released onto the Wilding and Breeding Section. They are doing exceptionally well, and their personality, behaviour and physical condition changed surprisingly fast. We are in uncharted waters and may experience set-backs but we are convinced it is a very promising way to go forward in cheetah conservation,” states Gerhard de Lange from Kuzuko.

ABOUT THE PARTNERS

Kuzuko Lodge is built high up on a hill in a 15 000ha private game reserve situated in the Malaria free greater Addo area which is situated in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. This reserve is perfectly situated to start or complete a trip along the Garden Route with. Guests are housed in 24 chalets of which three are wheelchair accessible. Kuzuko is part of the Legacy Hotels & Resorts Group and is a member of the Inqo Investments Social Impact Investment Group, which combines job creation, conservation and social transformation.
For more information visit www.kuzuko.com or phone +27 42 203 1700.

Ashia Cheetah Conservation is a registered non-profit company that was set up to manage and finance the Cheetah Release Program. Ashia’s goal is to help prevent the further decline of cheetah populations and increase the genetic gene pool through captive breeding programs. Captive-born cheetahs will be released into the protected wild of selected Private Game Reserves in South Africa. The relatedness of the reserve populations has become an issue and preventing inbreeding without supplementation from outside populations will be practically impossible. Given the limited numbers in the wild, the release of captive-born cheetahs from scientific breeding programs with strict DNA testing and accurate (Studbook) records on origin and parentage is a promising way to respond to the urgent need of reintroducing new genes to strengthen the wild populations.
For more information visit www.ashia.co.za

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