Cheetah Rewilding Project
An ambitious project to rewild as many captive cheetahs as possible while empowering community members, therefore creating a direct link of mutual benefit between endangered wildlife and the community.
Nyosi Wildlife Reserve – Nelson Mandela Bay, Eastern Cape, South Africa
An active long-term initiative since October 2022.
Nyosi Wildlife Reserve – Nelson Mandla Bay, Eastern Cape, South Africa
An active long-term initiative since October 2022.
To provide the best opportunity for as many captive cheetahs as possible to be rewilded for successful release into protected areas, in tandem with empowering local community members by:
- Managing a programme for cheetahs identified as suitable for rewilding in collaboration with our project partners
- Conducting the rewilding programme according to industry best practice, further contributing to the protocol standards
- Providing the opportunity for research to be conducted for conservation purposes
- Releasing rewilded cheetahs into protected areas where either, the cheetahs integrate with an existing free-roaming population of cheetahs or establish a new population of cheetahs
- Contributing to the growth and genetic diversification of the existing cheetah population in Africa
- Empowering a local community member for every cheetah rewilded, through skills programmes, internships, or enterprise opportunities. These individuals are our Cheetah Champions.
Cheetah Rewilding Program:
- The Metapopulation Initiative
- The Aspinall Foundation
Cheetah Champion Program:
- Wilderness Foundation Africa
- Indalo NPC
The plight of cheetahs
- Cheetahs experienced an 89% decrease in their population in their historic resident range
- The remaining cheetahs became segregated into 29 subpopulations due to human expansion, compromising their genetic integrity
- Conflict between cheetahs and humans escalated, particularly in livestock farming regions leading to further persecution of the species
- A further challenge impacting the genetic integrity of cheetahs is the illegal breeding of cheetahs for the exotic pet trade
- Cheetahs are listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, but scientists are calling for cheetahs to be uplisted to Endangered, which will mean better protection measures
- Of the 7100 cheetahs remaining in the world, only 1200-1700 live in South Africa
- The above cheetah population numbers include captive and free-roaming cheetah
- There are also over 600 cheetahs in captivity in South Africa
- There is growing concern over the destiny of these captive cheetahs
- Some of these captive cheetahs are managed for release into protected areas where they can integrate with free-roaming populations
Read more in our blog: Cheetah conservation challenges
Cheetahs in the Eastern Cape
The last known historical record of an Eastern Cape cheetah was around 1888 when two cheetahs were killed in the Albany District about 35km north of Grahamstown. With the establishment of the province as a wildlife destination, which began in the early 1990s, cheetahs have been returned to the region as private wildlife reserves emerged. Through this Cheetah Rewilding Project, the first free-roaming cheetahs within the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro will receive a chance to thrive.
The habitat at Nyosi Wildlife Reserve has been identified as suitable for these big cats, with the grassy Fynbos areas providing the perfect hunting arenas.
About the cheetah metapopulation
The Cheetah Metapopulation Initiative coordinates and manages the cheetah metapopulation project which was launched in response to the drastic decline in cheetah numbers. In 2011, the Endangered Wildlife Trust launched the Cheetah Metapopulation Project. A major goal of the project is to encourage further reintroductions as well as to streamline and regulate relocations between the fragmented metapopulation reserves. The project provides reserve managers with best practice guidelines for cheetah reintroduction, based on experience gained from almost 70 Cheetah reintroduction attempts.
The cheetah rewilding process
This Cheetah Rewilding Program forms the intermediate phase of the cheetah rewilding process.
- In the captive facilities, captive cheetahs are cared for, gradually moved onto a natural diet, and provided with enrichment and exercise. The exercise involves the cheetah chasing a fast-moving lure to keep the cheetahs fit and hone their hunting instincts
- One to three cheetahs at a time are then relocated to Nyosi Wildlife Reserve for a soft-release programme designed to maximise their success for the third phase being their final release. On arrival, the captive cheetahs spend several weeks in a large enclosure before being released to roam the 2,500-hectare wildlife reserve. In the case of two or three male cheetahs, they will undergo a bonding process to encourage the formation of a coalition which will better improve their chances of survival in Phase 3. The cheetahs will be fitted with tracking devices so that their movements can be monitored and recorded. While at Nyosi, the cheetah will have the opportunity to hunt free-roaming antelope and become self-sufficient. They are intensively monitored by our conservation and research teams and when they are consistently feeding themselves, they can be relocated to their final home. It is expected that their rewilding phase at Nyosi will take 6 – 12 months per cheetah intake, depending on the progress of the cheetahs.
- The cheetahs will be transported to a selected partner reserve for their final release. On arrival at the reserve, they will be kept in an enclosure to acclimatise to their new habitat for several days before being released.
Our rewilding programme will then become available for the rewilding of further captive cheetahs, with the next intake having been planned in advance.
- Rehome the two Kalahari Sibling cheetahs to different reserves within the first quarter of 2023
- Select the first Cheetah Champion (community beneficiary) of our Cheetah Rewilding Project
- Activate a fundraising campaign
- Enrol the first captive cheetah in our Cheetah Rewilding Project
- Rehome the first cheetah after 6-12 months in the rewilding project
- Implement the first Cheetah Champion empowerment initiative
Fundraising target for 2023
- R800,000 (± USD 44,000): Rewild our first captive cheetah
- R175,000 (± USD 9,600): Empower our first Cheetah Champion through an accredited skills programme
Nkanyiso - Our first captive cheetah
- Our project partners have identified a four-year-old female cheetah to enrol in our cheetah rewilding programme. She is a captive-born cheetah at a facility in the Limpopo province of South Africa.
- We have selected our first Cheetah Champion – a local community member who will be empowered as her cheetah companion goes through the rewilding process. Meet Anele, our first Cheetah Champion!
- Anele proposed several names for her cheetah companion and Nkanyiso was selected. Nkanyiso means ‘light’ in the Xhosa language and she will light the way for further cheetahs to follow in her rewilding tracks.
- On the 18th of April 2023, Nkanyiso arrived at Nyosi! Her journey began in the Limpopo province at Hoedspruit, and after a long day of travelling, she arrived in the Eastern Cape. Nkanyiso arrived late in the night and we released her into her enclosure early on the following morning. Her cheetah champion Anele opened the crate in a gesture symbolic of the hand-in-paw journey they are embarking on together! Nkanyiso will spend a few weeks in the enclosure to get used to her new surroundings while being fed a natural diet before being released onto the reserve where she can start honing her wild hunting skills.
- Nkanyiso has been closely monitored since her arrival in her new home. She’s been observed exploring every corner of her enclosure, feeding on the food provided, drinking water regularly and even stalking some ground birds and showing interest in antelope passing by her enclosure.
- In May 2023, Nkanyiso was paid a visit by our wildlife veterinarian to perform a health check and fit her GPS collar – a tool critical for monitoring her movements and activities after leaving her enclosure.
- On the 19th of June 2023, Nkanyiso was released from her enclosure into the 2,500 wildlife reserve at Nyosi. The team encouraged her to the open enclosure gate by dragging her most recent carcass to the entrance. Once she was at the carcass, she showed very little hesitation in leaving behind her familiar enclosure and walking off into unknown territory to explore – a very emotional moment for the team! Nkanyiso is being remotely monitored via her GPS tracking collar and our team will physically check in on her several times a day to monitor her movements and activity.
- The team were astounded that Nkanyiso sourced her own first meal after her release, albeit an ‘easy’ undertaking, a baby blesbok whose mother had passed away.
- Read more about Nkanyiso’s journey in our June blog: From Captivity to Freedom.
Anele - Our first Cheetah Champion
- CCFA commits to empowering a community member for each cheetah that is rewilded at Nyosi Wildlife Reserve.
- Our first Cheetah Champion is Anele Ntshiyane, a 28-year-old aspiring field guide from the KwaNObuhle township along the northern boundary of the Nyosi Wildlife Reserve.
- We have walked a path together with Anele since October 2021, when she was selected as one of 20 participants in our youth development course. Anele impressed the team and was selected by our partners, Indalo NPC, for a six-month internship at the reserve which was completed in August 2022. Anele then accepted an offer of employment at the reserve, working in hospitality.
- Being an aspiring field guide, Anele is in the process of obtaining her driver’s licence and learning as much as possible from the conservation team.
- The funds raised through the first cheetah rewilding project will enable Anele to attend a 10-week field guide course endorsed by the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa. The skills programme is recognised within the National Qualifications Framework of South Africa and represents the first step to beginning a career in field guiding.
- Throughout our first cheetah, Nkanyiso’s rewilding, Anele will participate in regularly tracking and monitoring her cheetah companion and serve as an ambassador in her community for wildlife conservation, helping to spread the message about the importance of preserving our precious biodiversity. Learn more about Anele here.
- Thanks to funding received this year for our Cheetah Champion Program, we registered Anele with FGASA (Field Guides Association of Southern Africa) and she received her FGASA Apprentice Field Guide study pack on the 7th of June 2023. This will allow Anele to become familiar with the comprehensive syllabus ahead of the FGASA training course.
The Kalahari siblings
- The first two cheetahs were welcomed to Nyosi Wildlife Reserve on 29 October 2022. The brother and sister duo from a large reserve in the Kalahari region were separated from their mother too early and after spending three months in a quarantine facility in the Limpopo Province of South Africa, they were transported to Nyosi.
- Vincent van der Merwe of The Metapopulation Initiative ensured their safe 15-hour overnight trip was a safe one.
- Read our blog: Meet the first-ever cheetahs in our rewilding project
- Our wildlife veterinarian, Dr Murray Stokoe, fitted their tracking collars on 18 November 2022 so that our conservation team can monitor their movements and activity.
- The cheetahs were released from their holding enclosure on 23 November 2022. Our conservation team was delighted that they caught their own food on 26 November 2022 – a fully-grown Red Hartebeest
- They were monitored daily for the first few weeks in case they did not catch their own food for a period of three days, so we could provide food for them as they regained their fitness and honed their hunting skills. However, we never had to provide food for the duo once – they were 100% self-sufficient since leaving their holding enclosure!
- Although not captive-born cheetahs, the decision was made to enrol them in our Cheetah Rewilding Project as they were separated from their mother, and we want to ensure their readiness for translocation to a large reserve where there might be other predators.
- The strategy: to rehome them during the first half of 2023, with each cat going to separate reserves. This is important to prevent inbreeding and maintain the genetic diversity of this endangered species.
- The loss of our male Kalahari sibling: It is with regret we share the news that on March 27, our male Kalahari sibling – who was due for translocation to his new home at a larger reserve in the Eastern Cape – died. This was due to complications during a veterinary procedure requiring an anaesthetic. Our team, including the reserve and veterinary teams, were deeply saddened by this. We work with a highly qualified and experienced wildlife veterinary team and together, we are analysing the experience to establish if anything could be done differently going forward. If we look at the bigger picture, we take some comfort in knowing that the cheetah population is growing. This is imperative as the fragmentation and depletion of the cheetah population has meant it has dropped from 100 000 in 1900 to only 7 100 today. As conservationists, it is our responsibility to do everything we can to give the endangered cheetah a fighting chance against extinction. Unfortunately, this requires intensive measures to facilitate the management of the population, which inherently carries a high level of risk to people and individual animals. However, the benefit far outweighs this risk. The legacy of the Kalahari siblings will live on in the female, who was rehomed in June, as we continue to rewild captive cheetahs and add value to conservation.
- On the 8th of June 2023, we successfully captured the Kalahari female for translocation to her new home at Selati Game Reserve in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. She arrived safely 24 hours after being captured at Nyosi Wildlife Reserve and is acclimatising well in her new home! We are massively appreciative to our partners who supported us and the ground team overseeing this important operation: The Metapopulation Initiative, The Aspinall Foundation, game capture pilot Mark Rochat, wildlife veterinarian Dr Murray Stokoe, Stenden SA’s Wildlife Management expert Jacques de Klerk and the dedicated reserve and safari guide teams at Nyosi Wildlife Reserve.
- Read our blog, Rehoming Success: Celebrating the Rehoming of the “Kalahari Female” Cheetah
Contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals, were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity. The 17 SDGs are integrated – they recognize that action in one area will affect outcomes in others and that development must balance social, economic and environmental sustainability.