On the 5th of March 2017, CCF released a coalition of three cheetah males into Erindi Private Game Reserve. The three big cats named Alcatraz, Dexter and Donner – known as the “Inmates”, have lived together at CCF for the past five years. Dexter and Donner arrived at CCF when they were just six months old and Alcatraz had just turned one when he arrived. When we get young cats of similar ages we introduce them to each other and bond them right away so they form a coalition.
In captivity, Donner was the dominant male; he and Dexter were always together. In the wild, the dynamics of the group has totally changed. Dexter has taken the dominant role and Donner now spends most of his time with Alcatraz. Dexter is the one which decides how the group moves and how long they stay in any one place. He is also the primary hunter of the group. Donner is “the muscles” of the group and to be the one which protects them. During the post release observation time, they were chased by lions on a few occasions, and it was Donner which stayed behind to divert attention and lure the lions away. He also is the one who keeps watch while everyone is eating. Alcatraz seems to be a bit more laid back. He just follows the other two which is somewhat surprising considering Alcatraz was orphaned later than the others. We assumed that he would have had more time to learn a greater range of skills from his mother because he was with her longer. We anticipated that he would be able to guide the group, but he seems content to simply follow their lead.
Since their release, they have hunted and killed several times on their own. Most of their prey in the beginning were young steenbok, but we also found that they had eaten a kudu calf and a springbok while we were monitoring them. However, they are still not hunting regularly enough to survive, so the Erindi team has been supplementing their hunting with carcasses every several days, if they have not hunted. This ensures that they get enough to eat and the amount they are supplemented decreases weekly.
The three cheetahs have made great advances towards independence. They are hunting successfully more regularly and defending themselves against other predators. They have been chased few times by lions, leopard and another coalition of two male cheetahs. They still have a lot to learn about being in the wild but they are very alert and aware which is very good.
After following them every day for more than five weeks, we decided we could leave Erindi and continue to remotely follow their movements via their GPS collars. The Erindi staff continue to check on them daily provide regular updates on their progress.