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.

Project Overview

 

Project location: 
Nyosi Wildlife Reserve – Nelson Mandela Bay, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Project category: 
Conservation, Community

Project timeframe:
An active long-term initiative since October 2022.

 

Project Overview

 

Project location: 
Nyosi Wildlife Reserve – Nelson Mandla Bay, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Project category: 
Conservation, Community

Project timeframe:
An active long-term initiative since October 2022.

Project details

Long-term vision

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:

    1. Managing a programme for cheetahs identified as suitable for rewilding in collaboration with our project partners
    2. Conducting the rewilding programme according to industry best practice, further contributing to the protocol standards 
    3. Providing the opportunity for research to be conducted for conservation purposes
    4. 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
    5. Contributing to the growth and genetic diversification of the existing cheetah population in Africa
    6. Empowering a local community member for every cheetah rewilded, through skills programmes, internships, or enterprise opportunities. These individuals are our Cheetah Champions.
Our Partners
  • The Cheetah Metapopulation Initiative 
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.

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Project goals

2023 Goals
  • 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: Rewild our first captive cheetah 
  • R200,000: Empower our first Cheetah Champion through an accredited skills programme 

Project updates

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 Cheetah Metapopulation Initiative ensure their safe 15-hour overnight trip was a safe one.
  • A local wildlife veterinarian 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 are monitored daily and should they not catch their own food for a period of three days, we will provide food for them as they regain their fitness and hone their hunting skills. 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. Because they are wild-born, we expect their rewilding phase to be under six months.
  • We plan to rehome them during the first quarter of 2023, with each cat going to separate reserves. This is important to prevent inbreeding and maintain the genetic diversity of this endangered species.

Read more in our blog: Meet the first ever cheetahs in our rewilding project

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. 
  • Once the Kalahari siblings have been rehomed, we will translocate her to Nyosi where she will spend a few weeks in the enclosure to get used to her new surroundings, before being released onto the reserve. 
  • In the meantime, she is slowly being transitioned onto a natural diet of antelope meat and we are applying to the authorities for the required permits, a process which must be followed before moving wildlife between sites. 
  • We have also selected our first Cheetah Champion – a local community member who will be empowered as her cheetah companion goes through the rewilding process. 
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’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.

     

Image Gallery

 

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.

How to support this project

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