A win for conservation: Captive-born cheetah released into the protected wild
Paarl, Western Cape, September 2018: Ashia Cheetah Conservation, a registered non-profit company, has accomplished the first phase of the release of a four-year-old captive-born cheetah named Jasmin, into the protected wild. The non-profit company was set up to finance and manage the Release Programme of Ashia, a new world-class sanctuary and working farm outside Paarl in South Africa’s Western Cape (https://bit.ly/2NqY3NV). Ashia’s first release took place at on Wednesday the 29th August at Kuzuko Lodge, a private game reserve in the greater Addo area managed by the Legacy Hotels & Resorts Group. Jasmin grew up at Ashia’s partner project, Cheetah Experience Bloemfontein (https://bit.ly/2NnCUnF), owned by Riana van Nieuwenhuizen, a director of the sanctuary and a board member of the non-profit company.
“The cheetah has become Africa’s most endangered big cat. From a count of 100 000 in 1900, the numbers have dropped to under 7 000 today. Ethical breeding in captivity has become essential to ensuring the long-term survival and viable genetic diversity of the species. The release of a captive-born cheetah into the wild – the first of many to come for Ashia – is a true win for conservation on numerous fronts, with a large part of the achievement being the successful collaboration between the various stakeholders involved,” says Chantal Rischard, co-founder of Ashia.
After initial visits to Kuzuko Lodge and discussions with the Reserve General Manager, Gerhard de Lange, it was found that this private game reserve in the Eastern Cape, would be the ideal location for the first release of an Ashia cheetah into a protected wild area. The experience, passion and dedication shown by Gerhard and his rangers for cheetahs and other big cats, as well as the suitable terrain, stunning location and substantial size of the reserve convinced the Ashia team that they had found the right place for Jasmin to take her first steps into the wild. Furthermore, Kuzuko Lodge is a member of Inqo Investments Social Impact Investment Group, which combines job creation, conservation and transformation.
Jasmin, the first feline to be chosen for the Cheetah Release Programme, made her way to her new home following a smooth and uneventful seven-hour drive from Cheetah Experience Bloemfontein, which has been her home for the past four years. On her arrival at Kuzuko Lodge she was released into a boma, a special enclosure which will be her initial home for a short period; here she will be encouraged to acclimatise to her new surroundings. From here, Jasmin will be released into a larger 300 ha enclosure, the next step in her integration before her eventual release into the expanse of the 15 000 ha reserve. Feisty and independent, Jasmin has settled in well so far and will soon be introduced to the other two resident male cheetahs on the reserve.
“There are a number of factors to consider when ‘wilding’ a cheetah born in captivity. Firstly, they need to have the right fight and flight responses, which can be evidenced in the way they feed and how they engage with people. Jasmin ticked all the boxes and in her short time in the boma, she is already exhibiting numerous traits that we believe will assist her smooth transition into the greater Kuzuko,” states Gerhard de Lange, Reserve General Manager at Kuzuko Lodge.
According to De Lange, while Jasmin is in the 300-ha area, a gradual process of introduction to a small and well monitored lion pride will be undertaken, allowing her natural protective instincts to kick in. Lions are generally a cheetah’s biggest threat in a wilderness area; by letting the lions come up to the fence Jasmin will be afforded the opportunity to identify them as a threat in her new environment, allowing her to respond accordingly once she is released into the reserve.
Daily monitoring is currently being undertaken by the Kuzuko conservation team, and Jasmin has been fitted with a tracking collar to enable them to keep a close eye on her once she is released into the larger enclosure. Like Jasmin, further captive-born cheetahs will be released into the protected wild of select Private Game Reserves in South Africa, through Ashia’s Release Programme. Several potential game reserves have already been identified and visited and are in the process of applying for the necessary permits.
More about Ashia Cheetah Conservation:
Ashia Cheetah Conservation is a registered non-profit company that was set up by Ashia (https://bit.ly/2NqY3NV) in cooperation with Cheetah Experience Bloemfontein (https://bit.ly/2NnCUnF) to manage and finance the Cheetah Release Programme. Cheetahs are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red list due to loss of habitat, human-wildlife conflict, poaching, trophy hunting or the illegal pet trade. Ashia’s goal is to help prevent further decline in the cheetah population and increase the genetic gene pool through captive breeding programmes. Captive-born cheetahs will be released into the protected wild of select Private Game Reserves in South Africa. The relatedness of the reserve populations has become an issue and preventing inbreeding without supplementation from outside populations will be practically impossible. Given the limited numbers in the wild, the release of captive-born cheetahs from scientific breeding programmes with strict DNA testing and accurate (Studbook) records on origin and parentage is a promising way to respond to the urgent need of reintroducing new blood lines to strengthen the wild populations.
More about cheetah experience Ashia:
A mere 45-minute drive from Cape Town, Cheetah Experience Ashia is surrounded by award winning wineries and orchards. Grapes, guavas, olives, and a smaller crop of home-grown produce are cultivated on this beautiful 35ha, working agricultural farm. Cheetah Experience Ashia is a not-for-profit undertaking. All surplus is used to help fund our conservation initiatives and the Cheetah Release Programme, as well as educating on the need to help save the cheetah. As grateful as it is to all its supporters, Cheetah Experience Ashia does not rely solely on donations, grants or fundraising schemes but continuously seeks new business models and ideas to raise needed funds in a sustainable manner.
About Kuzuko Lodge
Kuzuko Lodge is built high up on a hill in a 15 000ha private game reserve in the Malaria-free greater Addo area, situated in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. This reserve is perfectly situated to start or complete a trip along the Garden Route. Guests are housed in one of 24 chalets, of which three are wheelchair accessible. Kuzuko is part of the Legacy Hotels & Resorts Group (https://bit.ly/2I2hg1z) and is a member of the Inqo Investments Social Impact Investment Group, which combines job creation, conservation and transformation.