From Captivity to Freedom

From Captivity to Freedom

Introducing the Trailblazing Cheetah in our Rewilding Project

We are thrilled to share a momentous update with all our supporters and partners! It is with great pride that, in collaboration with Nyosi Wildlife Reserve, we have officially welcomed Nkanyiso, the very first captive cheetah to embark on our ground-breaking Cheetah Rewilding Programme. This remarkable endeavour has been made possible through a joint effort with our specialist partners, The Aspinall Foundation and The Metapopulation Initiative. Together, we are dedicated to securing a bright future for this iconic species.

In April 2023, Nkanyiso was carefully introduced to our cheetah rewilding enclosure, providing her with a nurturing environment to gradually adapt to her new surroundings. Since then, we have been overjoyed to witness her progress. Her diet was transitioned to wild meat, allowing her to acclimate to consuming antelope and refine her hunting skills by cutting through prey hide to access nourishing meat and organs. Our dedicated conservation team was delighted to see her displaying a keen interest in the antelope passing by the enclosure, as well as ground birds.

Nkanyiso was born in the Limpopo region of South Africa at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre where the cheetahs are earmarked for release at roughly three to four years of age. The cheetahs at the centre are known for their pure bloodlines, which is important. Because the cheetah species went through a ‘genetic bottleneck’ it is vital to coordinate the movement of cheetahs between the different reserves to preserve their genetic integrity. This effort forms the basis of the cheetah metapopulation project.

May marked another significant milestone as Nkanyiso was fitted with a state-of-the-art GPS tracking collar, generously donated by conservation organization, Over and Above Africa. This cutting-edge technology enables us to closely monitor her movements and precisely track her location in the reserve.

First steps toward freedom

The 19th of June 2023 marked a significant moment in her journey towards a life of freedom and fulfilment. Exactly two months after her arrival, Nkanyiso was released into the reserve where she now enjoys access to 2,500 hectares of protected wilderness – the most space she has ever had to roam. It was an emotional moment for the conservation team to watch her leave all that was familiar and stride off into unchartered territory, which she did with very little hesitation. There will be new challenges for Nkanyiso as she explores and familiarises herself with this vast new area. She will need to learn to hunt and there will be risks such as becoming injured while hunting. On her first evening, after tracking her to assess how she was doing, the team was astounded to see that she had killed a baby blesbok!

Throughout her rewilding journey, Nkanyiso will be under meticulous observation, with her activities carefully documented. We hold steadfast hope that her innate hunting instincts will be honed quickly, empowering her to consistently provide for herself in her natural habitat. However, should we notice a brief period of 2-3 days without successful hunts, we will provide her with nourishment to keep her energized. This compassionate approach will allow her to build her strength, improve her fitness, and fine-tune her hunting skills, ensuring her prosperous future.

A special ‘hand-in-paw’ journey

This rewilding initiative is an integral part of our broader commitment through the Cheetah Champion Programme. For each cheetah we rewild, we empower a local community member. In Nkanyiso’s case, we have paired her with the incredible Anele Ntshiyane, an aspiring safari field guide who graduated from our youth development programme, Greening Young Futures. Anele and Nkanyiso are embarking on a remarkable “hand-in-paw” journey, benefiting from each other’s participation in the programme. Through this project, Anele will be enrolled in an accredited field guide course, equipping her with invaluable skills to begin her safari guiding career at Nyosi. In turn, Anele serves as a wildlife conservation ambassador, inspiring her community adjacent to the Nyosi Wildlife Reserve.

Nkanyiso was named by Anele, with her name meaning ‘light’ in the Xhosa language. This symbolism reflects Nkanyiso’s role as the first captive cheetah in our rewilding programme, lighting the way for other captive cheetahs to follow in her rewilding tracks.

Team reflections

Our Executive Director, Taryn Gillson highlights some unique aspects of this project, “We are excited about the direct link of mutual benefit between people and wildlife through this project… Anele’s community will understand that she is benefitting specifically because of Nkanyiso. This project also showcases how peri-urban reserves that are relatively small compared with more remote conservation areas, can play a significant role in the conservation of threatened species.” CCFA Chairman Adrian Gardiner further expands on this sentiment, expressing, “This reserve – Nyosi – is a first in the world; it’s the only wildlife reserve within the metropolitan area of two cities, one being coastal, and we’re excited to show the greater community what difference a game reserve here can make. Because if they see the value in what we’re doing, the number of people we employ, the multiplier effect, the value we can add back and the lives that we change, I think that this is going to be something very special.”

Conservation is certainly a collaborative effort, and we extend our heartfelt gratitude to our supporters and partners for their unwavering support throughout this ambitious endeavour. Together, we are forging a path towards a brighter future for cheetahs and the communities that surround them. Stay tuned for more updates as Nkanyiso’s rewilding journey unfolds!

Additional information:

How to support our Cheetah Rewilding Project

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Rehoming Success: Celebrating the Journey of the “Kalahari Female” Cheetah

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From the Kalahari to Limpopo via the Eastern Cape!

We are thrilled to share some wonderful news with you – the cheetah affectionately known as the “Kalahari Female” has been successfully rehomed! After being captured at Nyosi Wildlife Reserve in the Eastern Cape on the 8th of June 2023, she embarked on a journey to her new home at Selati Game Reserve, arriving safely just 24 hours later.

The Kalahari Female and her brother had been under the care of Nyosi as foster cheetahs. Our partners at The Metapopulation Initiative worked tirelessly to find permanent homes for these precious felines. It was essential to relocate the Kalahari siblings to separate reserves to ensure the preservation of the cheetah species’ genetic integrity and contribute to the cheetah metapopulation project.

Undoubtedly, operations like these come with their fair share of challenges, and the team approached this task with the utmost care. Veterinary procedures for cheetahs carry a 20-30% risk of complications, and our team took every possible precaution to minimize any potential risks. Unfortunately, despite our careful planning, the Kalahari Male experienced complications during his sedation in April 2023 when he was being moved to a larger Eastern Cape reserve, resulting in his untimely passing while in transit. These projects involve risks for both the animals and our dedicated team members. Nevertheless, with the overall cheetah population continuing to grow, we firmly believe that the conservation benefits of successful relocations far outweigh the risks, and our commitment to cheetah conservation remains unwavering.

For the capture and translocation of the Kalahari Female in June, we employed a helicopter with a skilled game capture pilot to dart her swiftly. This allowed us to fit her with a GPS collar, conduct necessary health checks, and place her in a transport crate with minimal stress. The Nyosi team dedicated the morning to tracking her, ensuring we knew her precise location before the game capture team arrived. This meticulous planning resulted in an exceptionally smooth operation. Our wildlife veterinarian adopted a conservative approach to drug administration, prioritizing the well-being of the cheetah and reducing the chances of complications.

Once securely placed in her crate, the cheetah regained consciousness. Although slightly disoriented, she found comfort in her natural wooden crate during the journey to Selati Game Reserve in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. To ensure her safety and well-being, the cheetah transport team made a brief overnight stop to rest before continuing the journey.

The joy and relief our team experienced upon learning of her safe arrival at her new home were immeasurable. She was released into an enclosure where she could acclimate to her surroundings. This journey marked the end of her long travels, and we have every confidence that she will settle in splendidly. We eagerly await news of future cubs, hopeful that she will continue the legacy of the “Kalahari Siblings”.

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the incredible team and partners who supported and assisted us throughout this operation. The collaboration and dedication of the following organizations and individuals have made this rehoming a success:

  • The Metapopulation Initiative
  • The Aspinall Foundation
  • HeliPilot
  • Dr Murray Stokoe
  • Stenden South Africa
  • CONSEC
  • Indalo NPC
  • Nyosi Wildlife Reserve

Together, we are making a significant impact on cheetah conservation, and this successful rehoming serves as a testament to our collective efforts. The cheetah population continues to thrive due to projects like these, and we remain steadfast in our commitment to protect and preserve this magnificent species.

Stay tuned for more updates as we embark on new endeavours to safeguard the future of cheetahs and their habitats. Together, we can ensure a brighter future for these iconic big cats.

Additional information:

How to support our Cheetah Rewilding Project

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