With fewer than 7,100 wild cheetahs left in the world, every individual born in the wild has a vital role to play for the survival of this species. Unfortunately, from time to time cubs not yet independent are orphaned for one reason or another. In the last century, the most common cause of this is increased levels of human wildlife conflict. However, cheetahs today still fall victim to the natural causes of death that they have done so for thousands of years, such as deadly encounters with leopards.
Here at CCF, when orphans are picked up or rescued we are equipped to provide them with the best possible captive life. However, as dictated by our mission, we do our best to return as many of these orphans back to the wild as possible. Sadly, the vast majority of our resident cheetahs were orphaned at too young an age to ever have the possibility of surviving on their own in the wild again. But at any particular time we house a small handful of individuals getting ready to return to the wild. Today is a very exciting, and rare, occasion for all of us at CCF as we are returning four orphaned cheetahs back into the wild.
Three of these cats are siblings; two males, Cyclone and Kamin, and a female, Zin. These three were born on CCF property in September 2015 to a female cheetah, Zinzi, whom had also been orphaned as an 11 month old cub and whom grew up at CCF for a few years before being released back into the wild. Zinzi was a perfect mother and did a fantastic job raising these three cubs. She never killed livestock despite spending the vast majority of her time on farmland and she displayed all of the behaviour we would expect of a fully wild cheetah. However, one late evening in 2016 Zinzi fell victim to another of the large felids, a leopard. The details are not clear, but it appears that the two cats encountered one another and, likely while defending her cubs from the unexpected threat, Zinzi was caught by the leopard. Though Zinzi was a captive raised individual, this is a fate that can befall any wild cheetah and is one that happens often in the wild. We had no other choice but to then capture her three cubs, as they were only 11 months old, and keep them here in captivity until they were old enough to survive on their own in the wild. They are now 2.5 years old and ready to be released!
The three siblings are joined by another male, Elwood, who arrived to CCF as an orphan with his four sisters after their mother had been shot. The four females are slated for release, but that release will happen at a later date.
Over the next month, CCF’s monitoring team will keep very close tabs on the coalition of four until we have deemed them capable of surviving on their own in the wild. During this period, we will be ready to provide assistance where necessary, in the form of supplemental feeding, water, or veterinary treatment. These cheetahs will face all of the situations that a fully wild cheetah would, and while they don’t have all of the training they would have received had their mother not been killed their instincts are strong and we are here to provide them with the time they need to figure out living in the wild. Stay tuned for future updates on these cheetahs and their story.