Slower, more attentive…
For long that was Kaingo’s maxim. Until now!
Kaingo just introduced two cheetahs to rile up the local impala populations. The two cheetah males, born in the Eastern Cape, was delivered after a marathon journey by a tired, but happy, team on 30 October 2020.
But why cheetah, and why now?
Cheetahs are the least aggressive member of the Big Cat family traditionally found on the African and Asian plains. They are finely built with huge sinuses (to keep their brains cool during explosive acceleration) and built with only one thing in mind: speed!
The ancient Egyptians used to tame them as pets, the only cats that could be relied on not to eat their handlers.
Cheetahs have vanished from approximately 90 percent of their historic range in Africa, and are extinct in Asia except for a single, isolated population of perhaps 50 individuals in central Iran. Human competition for their main prey base (medium-sized antelope) and habitat destruction in the form of afforestation because of overgrazed land and retaliation for occasional livestock killing have further put their lives and livelihoods in danger.
Current research estimates a world population of around 7100 cheetahs remaining in the wild. Many of these animals are found outside of protected areas, where human/animal conflict is a very real possibility. Here, cheetah needs to live in the shadows, hardly showing themselves.
It was one such a cheetah that got photographed on our static trails’ camera a few months ago. This wild male has since moved on to other areas, but it got us thinking…
We could not find any reasonable ecological reason not to re-introduce cheetah into the Kaingo system. Jacque made work of the logistic and paperwork (such animal movements come with a mountain of paperwork) whilst the rest of the conservation team busied themselves with beefing up the existing game handling facilities.
Being from a much drier area, we decided to keep the male coalition in the boma for a little while. This enforced quarantine helps to establish a familiarity with their new surroundings, acclimatization to the area and gives us a chance to ensure that our new arrivals have not got any dread disease that may compromise our lion and other cat populations.
The two settled in nicely, feeding well. They were already in peak condition when they got to Kaingo, but they are glowing with health now.
Soon the day came that we decided to grant the boys their freedom. Jacque opened the gate…and the cheetah came out like two yellow bullets!
The lure of food proved just a little too much to override the instinct of safety and familiarity of their known, captive, environment.
Throughout the next few days, we were privileged to see them often, mostly in the pose cats love most…prone, in the shade of a tree. We have had some hilarious sightings as well.
The cheetah knew other animals but were never properly introduced to animals that would and could fight back. On their first attempt at killing a wildebeest, the wildebeest lost its cool, and started chasing the cheetah! Her herd soon joined in to add to the chaos of potential prey chasing its prospective predator, much to the hilarity of all of us sitting on the side-lines.
Their next lesson in Kaingo etiquette involved a herd of buffalo. The buffalo were curious about the strange cat-like smell. They sniffed about, approached the cheetah (still looking very ignorant about the big brown cows’ intentions) and they disappeared behind a thin screen of bush.
All of a sudden, all hell broke loose!
The buffalo had enough.
Leading the charge was one of the big boys, menacingly shaking his head as he galloped towards the cheetah. His selected possie of bulls followed closely behind.
The cheetah took one look at this wall of death approaching and shot off into the dark…lesson learnt!
Why do we introduce cheetah onto Kaingo and why now?
Kaingo’s maxim has always been ‘Conservation first’. This includes the reestablishment of meta (founder) populations and the conservation of genetic diversity of the species under our custodianship. Because of the relatively small genetic pool where cheetah is concerned, it is important to create new blood by mixing cheetah from different bloodlines.
But one cannot just release a bunch of cheetahs in the hope that they will thrive and breed. Cats are territorial, and cheetah needs vast areas to thrive. The males need to establish their territories before we can even think of introducing females into the mix. The establishment of territory by a coalition of males will ensure that they will at least not kill each other when a willing cheetah lady walks by.
This process can take a year or more, but ultimately, the exercise is worthwhile.
I was reminded of that this morning when, as luck would have it, I found them walking down the road in that typical big-cat swagger, as if they own all they lay their eyes on. I looked at them, seeing life through their eyes; the need to feed, keep your nose clean, maybe mate if the opportunity presents itself.
The thought came through clearly:
I am a custodian. I have the responsibility. We have the power to change their lives.