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.
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!
How to support our Cheetah Rewilding Project
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