[restore (an area of land) to its natural uncultivated state (used especially with reference to the reintroduction of species of wild animal that have been driven out or exterminated).]

In recent years, conservationists have been turning to the practice of rewilding as a way to save endangered species from extinction. Rewilding involves restoring natural ecosystems by reintroducing species that have been driven out or gone extinct from an area. At CCFA, we believe this method to be a proactive and integrated approach to conservation.

The idea behind rewilding is that by restoring natural ecosystems and the species that inhabit them, we can improve biodiversity, ecosystem function, and overall ecological health. For example, reintroducing predators such as wolves or lynx to an area can help control populations of herbivores, which in turn can reduce the overgrazing of plants and improve the diversity of plant species.

A notable success story

One of the most notable rewilding success stories is the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in the United States. Wolves were eradicated from the park in the early 20th century, but in 1995 and 1996, 31 wolves were reintroduced. Since then, the wolf population has grown to over one hundred, and the ecosystem has undergone significant changes. The presence of wolves led to a reduction in the elk population, which allowed for the recovery of vegetation such as aspen and willow trees. This has in turn led to an increase in songbird populations and other wildlife that depend on these plants for habitat.

Rewilding challenges

While rewilding has shown promise as a conservation tool, it is not without its challenges. One of the biggest obstacles is overcoming the political and social barriers to reintroducing species that have been extirpated from an area. There can be resistance from local communities who may be concerned about the impacts of reintroducing predators or other species, or who may have economic interests that conflict with rewilding efforts.

Another challenge is ensuring that reintroduced species can thrive in their new environment. This may involve providing habitat restoration or management or addressing other threats such as habitat loss, pollution, or climate change. Additionally, rewilding efforts may need to be coordinated across multiple jurisdictions, which can be difficult to navigate.

An effective tool for conservation

Despite these challenges, rewilding has the potential to be an effective tool for conservation. By reintroducing species that have been lost or driven out, we can improve biodiversity, ecosystem function, and overall ecological health. With careful planning and management, rewilding can help to save endangered species from extinction and restore balance to our ecosystems. A species with a high rewilding success rate is the cheetah.

Cheetah rewilding

Cheetahs are one of the most endangered big cats in the world, with an estimated 7,100 individuals remaining. This number is a remarkable decrease from an estimated 100,000 cheetahs in 1900. In southern Africa, rewilding has become a valuable tool for conserving cheetah populations. This involves reintroducing cheetahs to areas where they were once found but have since disappeared.

The cheetah metapopulation

Rewilding has been successful in South Africa, where cheetahs have been reintroduced to private game reserves. In some cases, these reintroduced cheetahs have formed stable populations and have even started to expand into neighbouring areas. This success is, in large part, due to the efforts of organisations like The Metapopulation Initiative which helps manage the cheetah populations, encourage reintroductions, and facilitate relocations to preserve the genetic integrity and overcome the many challenges that cheetahs face as a species.

The CCFA Cheetah Rewilding Project

CCFA is collaborating with such partners to rewild cheetahs through our Cheetah Rewilding Project at Nyosi Wildlife Reserve in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Captive cheetahs, identified as suitable for the programme, arrive at the reserve to spend 6 – 8 weeks in a large enclosure where they are fed a natural diet of wild meat and prepared for release onto the 2,500-ha reserve where they can begin honing their hunting skills. Once they are consistently feeding themselves and deemed self-sufficient, they can be rehomed to their permanent home in a predetermined protected area where they can integrate into an existing cheetah population. We anticipate the entire process to take between 6 to 12 months per intake, following which, we can begin rewilding the next intake of cheetahs.

Rewilding and people

Overall, cheetah rewilding has shown great promise as a conservation tool. By reintroducing cheetahs to areas where they have disappeared, we can help to restore populations and improve genetic diversity. However, rewilding efforts must be carefully managed and monitored to ensure the long-term success of the project. Additionally, community involvement and education are crucial to the success of rewilding efforts, as they can help to reduce conflicts between humans and cheetahs and increase support for conservation efforts.

The CCFA Cheetah Champion Programme

CCFA has initiated a Cheetah Champion Programme, through which we empower a community member for every cheetah we rewild. These community members are our Cheetah Champions, who will walk a ‘hand-in-paw’ journey with their cheetah companion and serve as wildlife conservation ambassadors within their communities.

Additional information:

How to support our Cheetah Rewilding Project

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