By Eli Walker, Kate Vannelli
Everyone at CCF is sad to announce that two cheetahs who were so dear to us have passed away. Zinzi, a re-wilded cheetah who successfully raised her wild-born cubs and has been followed by CCF’s supporters for the past few years was killed by a leopard in the wild. Samantha (click to skip to Samantha), who was rescued as a cub and sponsored by many caring CCF supporters, was humanely euthanized due to declining health; there was no chance of her recovery. Please read their stories below, written by CCF staff who worked very closely with both cheetahs.
by Eli Walker
Though CCF runs a rescue, having cheetahs in captivity has never been, and never will be, our goal. As much as we can, we try our best to return as many cheetahs as possible to the wild where they belong. This process however is incredibly difficult and the majority of our resident cheetahs are not suitable for release into the wild.
A wild cheetah, particularly a female, has a very difficult life. From the time that she leaves her mother and any of her siblings (brothers and sisters alike), she is on her own. The only time she will have contact with other cheetahs is briefly (just a couple days) when she is mating or when she has cubs (together an average of 18 months). When’s she is mating, eating/hunting is not on the agenda and when she has cubs, she has on average four to six hungry mouths to feed in addition to her own with literally no support from other individuals. Once her cubs are over one year of age, they will start assisting with hunts but often times they are more trouble than help as their immature antics will often ruin hunts. The cubs improve substantially over time with teaching from mom, but by the time they really get good at hunting it’s time to leave mom and head out into the world on their own and the female cheetah starts the entire process all over again. Therefore, it’s safe to say that a female cheetah is more or less 100% dependent upon her self, and for many months of her life has cubs that are 100% dependent upon her and her alone. This is why we say all the time that female cheetahs are SuperMoms, and if you ever get to see the process first hand you will undoubtedly agree.
In 2011, CCF received a single female cheetah cub around one year of age. She was caught with no mother or siblings and was transferred to CCF. As a one-year-old orphan, CCF knew immediately that this cheetah would be a great candidate for release in a few years’ time. In June of 2014, we released Zinzi along with another female named Debra. As soon as the box was opened Zinzi bolted straight out and we didn’t see her again for 6-months. Zinzi proved herself as an independent wild cheetah from day one, and though we didn’t get to see her we knew she was just fine based on the data her satellite collar sent to use several times per day. With this we were able to monitor remains of the kills she left behind for us to find. One day, more than half a year after her release, Zinzi finally decided to let us see her for the first time, and from that point she would normally tolerate our presence whenever we decided to go and find her.
In March 2015, Zinzi gave birth to her first litter of cubs. Unfortunately, she lost this litter about 3 months later, we think to a leopard, due to the tracks we found. Sadly, first time mothers lose their litters mostly to these other predators. In September 2015 Zinzi gave birth to her second litter of cubs (having bred again just a few weeks after losing her first litter). This time she proved herself a very capable mom, and we at CCF were incredibly fortunate to watch these cubs grow and learn to be wild cheetah cubs. Zinzi’s skill as a mother was proved time and time again and showed us that even though she was raised in captivity she could still be a wild cheetah. Time and time again, she surprised us and her successes have lent so much to the validity of our release protocols.
On 13 August 2016, we had to say goodbye to Zinzi. Sometime during the evening before, while travelling with her cubs Zinzi came across a leopard. We can’t be 100% clear on the specifics of what happened but it does appear that the leopard managed to catch and kill Zinzi while she was defending her cubs. Regardless of what happened exactly, with her last act Zinzi once again proved herself a supermom as the next day we confirmed that all three of her cubs had survived the incident. We immediately devised a plan and we successfully captured all three. At 11 months old, the cubs would not have had good chances of survival on their own, but just like their mother we will plan to release them when they are old enough to take care of themselves. Though we are all so incredibly saddened by the loss of Zinzi, we know that her legacy will continue through her three cubs that she had raised so very well. Zinzi’s release was successful and though her life ended early, the cause was completely natural and could have happened to any wild cheetah.
by Kate Vannelli
Samantha arrived to CCF in 2003 with her two siblings, a male and a female. This group had come from a situation where they were being kept as a tourist attraction as young cubs and were not fed the proper diet, causing bone deformities. Because of this severe calcium deficiency, Samantha could barely walk when she arrived to CCF. Even with a damaged pelvis, she was able to heal with a proper diet, although Samantha remained small for the rest of her life.
Samantha was a prime example of a fighter. Despite her short legs, she ensured she was always first in line to chase the feeding truck, out-competing her pen-mates for treats. This fiery attitude was especially apparent if one was listening carefully as the cheetahs ran. Samantha, without fail, would always run alongside the car, staring at the tyres and growling audibly, showing the truck who’s boss. This tough little cheetah with her short legs and drive to prove herself was instantly lovable to all who met her. She was especially amazing considering the fact that when she arrived she could barely walk. Amongst the retired females, she was by far the feistiest, spitting and hissing at the fence, and giving off a pleased impression to anyone she surprised into jumping backwards.
Unfortunately, as is common among many old cat species, Samantha suffered from renal failure. She lived to be almost 14 years old, which is a very long life for a cheetah, and she lived as a fighter, sticking closely to her bonded pen-mates, them against the world. With captive cheetahs, renal failure is an extremely common issue. As cheetahs age, their kidneys can stop functioning normally. This can either be a slow process or a fast process, and there are treatments that can improve their overall condition, including administering subcutaneous fluids. However, if it is chronic renal failure, there is little that can be done with to reverse this process. Unfortunately this is a side effect of living long past their wild lifespan in a captive environment, and something that many captive cats face. Samantha received subcutaneous fluid treatment until she was no longer living comfortably. We followed her declining health and when it was clear that her time had come we euthanized her peacefully in her large pen with her bonded pen-mate Amani nearby.
Although it is extremely hard to say goodbye to our older cheetahs, there is comfort in knowing that she lived a long and full life, and would not have lived past her youth had it not been for the care that CCF provided her, even into her last days. We will miss your fire Samantha, it burned so brightly.
P.S. CCF has several other cheetahs which are older and sadly we will have to share more passing of these older cats. We hope you will understand that we provide the best care to them throughout their life.
Please consider donating to CCF so we can continue to give the best care to both our released and resident cheetahs.