Zinzi: Teetering on the Brink of Success

  • by Dr. Laurie Marker December 1, 2015
Zinzi: Teetering on the Brink of Success

In 2009, Zinzi, a young female cheetah was captured by a farmer in the Karibib region of Namibia and came to live at CCF. Because she had the desired qualities we look for in a cheetah that is a candidate for re-wilding (being orphaned at age six months or older, having a solid fear of humans), we decided Zinzi was a great candidate for release back into the wild.

The long process began by placing Zinzi in our 200-acre Bellebeno camp, a large enclosure that houses other female cheetahs of similar age and temperament. Zinzi spent nearly three years in Bellebeno. She had limited contact with humans, but was exercised daily, running to keep pace with the food truck that delivered her dinner. When we determined Zinzi was ready to be on her own, we released her in June of 2014 onto our Bellebeno 8000 acre camp. She shot out of the transfer box like a cannonball, her enthusiasm giving us high hopes for her ability to adapt to her new environment.

It was a long time before we saw Zinzi again. We knew she was okay because we were tracking her movements with a GPS collar, and our research team would come across remains of kills she left behind. Normally, a cheetah that was just released would be regularly monitored by the team and receive assistance in the form of supplemental feeding and watering if needed, especially during the first critical month of release. But Zinzi never needed our help.

Few criteria have been established to define the success of such releases. But our goal for rehabilitation of Zinzi was to have her contribute to the cheetah population through reproduction, which is one of the criteria for rehabilitation success. So when we noticed data from Zinzi’s satellite collar that indicated she may have given birth in Sept. of 2015, we were very excited. Then, on Nov. 1, we were ecstatic when the research team checked Zinzi’s nest seeing four new cubs and setting a camera trap, to see more closely behaviour between a female and her young cubs at a den site.

Rehabilitation success revolves around reproduction and survival. Therefore, we consider Zinzi’s rehabilitation to be a success, so far.

To date, Zinzi has raised these four cubs entirely on her own, which is a feat in itself (cheetah cub mortality is highest under three months of age). But before we shout it from the hilltops, there is over a year before these young cubs will be able to care for themselves (cubs usually leave their moms between 18 - 22 months of age. Zinzi most certainly will face numerous challenges in the months to come, but she is well on her way to becoming a cheetah Supermom. If her history over the last 18 months is any indication of her future, her chances for success are very good indeed!

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