Paarl and Graaff-Reinet, South Africa, January 2020 – Two 2.5-year-old cheetahs from Howletts Wild Animal Park, near Canterbury will leave the park on 6th February 2020 for a new life in South Africa.
After a 6,000 mile flight, the pair will first settle in at Ashia’s Cheetah Center in South Africa’s Western Cape before eventually moving to Mount Camdeboo Private Game Reserve, a 14,000-hectare property in the Great Karoo. There, they will undergo a rewilding process developed and successfully applied by Ashia over the last two years.
“We are delighted to welcome these cheetah brothers to our Breeding, Wilding and Release Program which is already successfully returning captive-born cheetahs into the protected wild of South African game reserves and national parks. So far 9 cheetahs, all born and raised in human care, have been successfully wilded and we have high hopes for these siblings!”, says Chantal Rischard, Founder of Ashia.
Mount Camdeboo is home to a few rescued, rehabilitated and endangered animals, including a bull elephant rescued by The Aspinall Foundation in partnership with the Mount Camdeboo team in October 2019, and looks forward to welcoming these cheetahs.
Iain Buchanan, owner of Mount Camdeboo says, “It is an incredible privilege to be part of this landmark conservation project. To see these magnificent cheetah roaming free on Mount Camdeboo in the coming months will be one of the greatest moments in my life. I am confident that this project will pave the way for many more zoo animals to be ‘wilded’ and in so doing, contribute to the greater conservation effort which aims to increase the genetic diversity of these and many other species.”
Mount Camdeboo is playing a pivotal role for conservation in the region by creating a sanctuary for endangered species and by restoring the land to its original pristine state of wilderness.
Saba was hand-reared by Aspinall Foundation Chairman Damian Aspinall and his wife, Victoria Damian and Victoria will accompany Saba & Nairo on their journey from the UK to South Africa and will personally release them into their new home. The ground-breaking project is the first time a captive-born, hand-raised cheetah has left the UK for rewilding in Africa.
Cheetahs are listed as Vulnerable by the ICUN, with less than 7,000 individuals remaining in the wild. Habitat loss, conflict with humans and increasing pressure from the illegal pet trade means that cheetah only inhabits around 10% of their historic range. Saba & Nairo’s rewilding and participation in a breeding programme will bring vital new genetics to the South African population.
A major fundraising campaign has been launched to support the move. Big cat-fans will have the opportunity to donate, adopt Saba & Nairo or purchase limited-edition merchandise on The Aspinall Foundation website. All profits will go directly to the move and ongoing care and monitoring of Saba & Nairo.
Damian Aspinall, Chairman of The Aspinall Foundation said: “It will be difficult to say goodbye to Saba & Nairo but finding ways to return animals to the wild is something I believe in passionately. This approach may challenge the zoo community, but it is the right thing to do and I sincerely hope more zoos around the world finally take notice and follow suit.
“With fewer than 7,000 cheetahs remaining in the wild, it is more important than ever to support the wild population by bringing captive-bred animals back to their ancestral homes for rewilding. We at The Aspinall Foundation have proven time and time again that it can work. We have already successfully rewilded animals in Congo, Gabon, Java, South Africa, Tanzania and China.
“We have selected our partners for this project very carefully and I have complete faith in the teams at Ashia and Mount Camdeboo Private Reserve, who we will work closely with every step of the way.”