A year of planning came to fruition this past weekend when Cheetah Conservation Fund took five of its cheetahs to the NamibRand Nature Reserve in the south west of Namibia boarding the Namib-Naukluft Park. The six year old male cheetahs – Ra, Kia, Mushara, Lindt and Cadbury, were housed in a 50 ha camp at the Amani Lodge, near Windhoek, for the past three years.
The Cheetah Conservation Fund research team worked on the group of cheetahs at Amani Lodge prior to their transport to NamibRand Nature Reserve on Sunday. The cheetahs were anaesthetised for sample collections including blood for overall health, genetics. Sperm was collected and frozen and the cheetahs underwent endoscopies for a collection of gastric biopsies. These cheetahs have been a part of CCF’s long-term research studies.
At NamibRand, the cheetahs were placed in a two hectare holding pen where they will stay for the next 10 days. A soft release is scheduled for the 29th of July when the pen will be opened for the cheetahs to go free on their own. The cheetahs will be followed closely using radio and satellite tracking under the direction of the Cheetah Conservation Fund research staff.
CCF and NamibRand have worked closely with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism to plan this release. All five cheetahs have been radio collared will be followed using satellite radio-telemetry technology. Dr. Laurie Marker, CCF’s Executive Director said “re-introductions are not simple. It’s very important to closely monitor the behaviours of the individual cats to ensure their health and adaptation to their new environment. CCF has been conducting research on re-introductions and this is the third project. There is not a lot of suitable habitat due to the extent of land under livestock production and habituated cheetahs need large uninhabited areas. NamibRand is ideally suited for this long-term re-introduction project.”
This is the first time a structured re-introduction is being attempted. Previous attempts to re-introduce cheetah into this area have not been successful due to various reasons including unsuitable animals and the lack of an intensive, long-term monitoring program. The cheetahs chosen for this release are likely to settle into the area as they are habituated and will allow access to tracking. In addition, these cheetahs, having lived in a large camp and have been successful in hunting game previously and it is expected that they will successfully adapt to their new environment.
One aim of the NamibRand Nature Reserve is to restore the balance of the natural ecosystem. Up until thirty years ago there were cheetah in this area of the country. However, livestock farming practices have eliminated cheetah in this region. Since the establishment of the NamibRand Reserve, game populations have increased substantially, providing adequate prey for these cheetah. Nils Odendaal, CEO of NamibRand Nature Reserve said “we are thrilled to finally be able to release cheetah on the Reserve, as it has been an ambition of ours for several years to restore cheetah to the area, creating a holistic ecosystem.”
The collaborative team of CCF, NamibRand, Amani Lodge and the MET is hopeful that cheetahs can be restored to this area to once again play their key role in a balanced ecosystem. This historic event is being documented by Gecko Productions from the United Kingdom for a Channel 5 TV.