Media Release by the SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association, Pretoria East Branch
Pretoria: The birth of three cheetah cubs at Rietvlei Nature Reserve (RNR) south of Pretoria early in November 2016 has caused great excitement among regular visitors and staff at this 4000 ha reserve in the heart of Tshwane.
Their mother, Kiara, has been hiding them away from public eyes, but mother and cubs all seemed healthy and thriving. Only a few RNR staff members were fortunate to spot mother and her cubs on rare occasions. Their gender is not known at this stage.
Cheetahs were reintroduced at RNR in 2014 when a male cheetah, Sanbona was purchased with a donation from the Pretoria East Branch of the SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association (SA Hunters). The branch donated R44 000 to RNR to purchase Sanbona and to equip him with a telemetric collar to enable staff to monitor his movement.
In November 2015, Sanbona was joined by Kiara and three other juvenile orphan cheetahs from the Welgevonden Reserve where their mother died from injuries incurred while hunting. The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT) cheetah project assisted in finding a new home for the cubs and RNR was chosen as a suitable, safe haven where the young animals could mature and learn to hunt.
Initially the four juveniles were kept in a boma at RNR and released into the reserve in January 2016 to fend for themselves. They adjusted very well and hunted successfully. After a few months, three of the four young cheetahs were relocated to other reserves as part of EWT’s cheetah programme.
Kiara stayed behind as planned with the hope that she and Sanbona would eventually start breeding. However, disaster struck when Kiara was badly injured while hunting, presumably by a black wildebeest that she tried to hunt.
A wildlife veterinary surgeon immobilised and took care of Kiara. Two injured toes on her front paw had to be amputated and a deep wound on her hind leg took a while to heal. After spending some time in a veterinary clinic Kiara was moved back into the boma to recuperate. She was released into the reserve months after the injury, but the medical and RNR teams were uncertain if she would be able to hunt successfully again.
Exactly twelve months after Kiara’s arrival at RNR, she surprised everyone with her offspring. According to RNR staff, there is no evidence that her injuries impaired her ability to hunt. She is in excellent condition and takes good care of her cubs. RNR can only accommodate one Cheetah breeding pair and the cubs will be relocated to a suitable location once they are approximately 18 months old and can hunt independently.
Dieter Labuschage, conservation co-ordinator of the Pretoria East Branch of SA Hunters, says the Association has a long-standing commitment to support the RNR’s conservation activities. To date, the branch contributed money and equipment to the value R184 000 to RNR. This includes the construction of a capture boma in 2011, telemetric collars for Sanbona and Kiara, night sight equipment to assist with security patrols, and R30 000 for the purchase of Sanbona in 2014. The branch raises funds for conservation through awareness projects among its more than 3000 members in the Pretoria East area and the public.
“The Rietvlei Nature Reserve cheetah success story is proof that ordinary citizens and members of SA Hunters can contribute to conservation in their own communities. As hunters we are dedicated to conserve natural habitats. RNR is the biggest nature reserve included in a metropolitan area in the world, and one of 57 conservation areas in Tshwane alone. It is a paradise for nature lovers. We encourage Gauteng residents in particular to support the reserve,” Labuschagne said.
The Cheetah’s conservation status in southern Africa is listed as vulnerable and it is essential that the establishment of cheetahs in reserves in South Africa are properly managed according to scientific principles. The EWT’s cheetah project maintains a database of cheetah DNA to assist them with research into the gene pool of cheetah Meta population, which is vital to ensure healthy cheetah populations. The future of three cubs at RNR is in good hands.