From Canada to Zimbabwe, Two Cheetahs Successfully Rewilded!

From Canada to Zimbabwe, Two Cheetahs Successfully Rewilded!

Posted by Georgia Wilson on 22nd Jun 2021

The Rhino and Elephant Conservation Project has been a long-standing and respected pillar of wildlife conservation in Zimbabwe, with their history is steeped in the success of their re-introduction and release of critically endangered black rhinos into the wild, but their latest feat involved the rewilding of two cheetahs from Canada, the very first rewilding project of its kind for Zimbabwe. Selected by The Aspinall Foundation in partnership with Parc Safari, the Rhino and Elephant Conservation Project was chosen to receive two cheetah brothers who were born in captivity to be released onto the conservancy. This was a long and complicated process, especially during a worldwide pandemic, but the results have been incredible and for Zimbabwe as a whole, historic.

COLLABORATION & CHEETAHS

The Aspinall Foundation (TAF) are leading conservation specialists who have spearheaded the rewilding of countless animals including cheetahs, black rhinos and gorillas back into their natural habitats in protected areas. Their latest project, the rewilding of Kumbe and Jabari, was the first time cheetahs had been reintroduced from Canada to Africa, and for Zimbabwe, it was the very first time the country had received captive-bred cheetahs for rewilding. Choosing the partners for this project was extremely important and impressed by the Rhino and Elephant Conservation Project’s well-established rhino programme, coupled with their 4,500-hectares of well-protected and professionally managed land, TAF identified them as an ideal partner for this project. As for Parc Safari, cheetahs have been the pride of the park since their arrival in 2013 and management had been very keen in aiding the species survival via rewilding for many years. Ensuring good animal genetics is of utmost importance to the park and through this, every birth can potentially lead to rehabilitation.

Baby Kumbe and Jabari

All partners agreed on specific criteria to ensure a successful reintroduction, this included the ideal age for restoration, health, strength and gender. Kumbe and Jabari were born in 2019 and their strong genetics made them the perfect candidates to increase captive-bred wildlife in local populations, alongside increasing genetic diversity to safeguard against inbreeding. The world’s wild cheetah populations are in decline with fewer than 7,100 adults remaining in the wild. Classified as vulnerable on the ICUN Red List, it has been called into question whether their status needs changing, and many conservationists are calling for the species to officially be declared endangered. For Zimbabwe, cheetah numbers are especially bleak with an estimation of only 170 wild individuals remaining, mainly occurring in protected areas. Kumbe and Jabari, and their successful translocation, stand as a beacon of hope for the conservation of this iconic, yet at-risk species.

PREPARATION

The epic road trip Kumbe and Jabari undertook was not the start of their journey, first, they had to demonstrate and prove their natural hunting instincts were strong enough to ensure they would survive in the wild. To prepare them for future hunts, the zoologists of Parc Safari set up a motorized lure which they practised with for several months prior to their departure. ‘Lures’ mimic a high-speed pursuit in the wild and proved successful in awakening the brothers' natural instincts to hunt as well as improving their acceleration towards prey, which is one of the most important elements of successful hunting in cheetahs. Below you can see Kumbe and Jabari practising… in the snow!

To ensure the translocation went as smoothly as possible and reduce stress levels for all involved, Kumbe and Jabari were introduced to their travel crates months before they left Canada. The Parc Safari team left these crates in their enclosures, occasionally leaving food inside and slowly, the curious cats became more and more familiar with their transport containers. In fact, they became so familiar that the staff found them sleeping in the crates on multiple occasions!

JOURNEY & ARRIVAL

Soon, came the time for Parc Safari to wave goodbye to the brothers as they embarked on their journey. This was a complicated 2-day trip, but thanks to a multitude of experts it was a comfortable journey with smooth transitions through every stage. After a 7-hour drive to Toronto Airport in specially designed transport crates, the cheetahs and translocation team boarded a 14-hour flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and a final 5-hour flight to Harare, where they were met by members of the Rhino and Elephant Conservation Project and The Aspinall Foundation team who transferred the brothers to their forever home.

Kumbe and Jabari Being Transported

‘Quarantine’ is, unfortunately, a word we are now all familiar and very much frustrated with, but for Kumbe and Jabari, quarantine was the next vital step before release. For two months, the cheetah duo lived in a quarantine boma (large enclosure) in the project grounds but separated from other wildlife. This period of quarantine allowed the team to monitor the brothers, ensuring they did not develop any illnesses during transfer and also gave Kumbe and Jabari time to explore their surroundings as they adapted to the African climate, take in the new sights and smells of their home, and continue to practice lure hunting, ensuring they will be able to fend for themselves when their boma gates opened.

RELEASE

Kumbe and Jabari Wild and Free!

Finally, on May 22nd 2021, Kumbe and Jabari were released from their quarantine boma into the protected wildlands of the Rhino and Elephant Conservation Project. Fitted with GPS tracking collars, the brothers began their new lives in their natural habitat and a short 12-hours later, Jabari made his first kill, followed by Kumbe within a day of release, proving they have successfully adapted to life in the wild! Alongside hunting wild prey, they are marking their territory, have found the waterpoints and are learning which animals can be approached - and others that should be avoided entirely! The Rhino and Elephant Conservation Project team will continue to closely monitor Kumbe and Jabari, and the pair will wear GPS collars for approximately one year.

Kumbe and Jabari First Kill Within 24hrs

This huge cheetah conservation achievement would not have been possible without the collaboration and dedication of The Aspinall Foundation UK, Hemmingford's Parc Safari, the Rhino and Elephant Conservation Project, Ethiopian Airlines and Zimparks, we thank them for their incredibly hard work and look forward to bringing you updates on Kumbe and Jabari in the near future!

Following the successful reintroduction, plans to introduce a female cheetah onto conservancy will be put in motion to establish a breeding population, which will assist in the repopulation of cheetah numbers on reserves across Zimbabwe!


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Ethan Stormes commented 2 months ago
Thank you! This blog is very informative and educational. I hope many can get a chance to read this as this is very important topic to learn. It is indeed a duty of all of us to protect endangered species as we all live on the same planet. I also want to share something about <a href=" https://www.petalwildlifestore.com/products/"> PETAL wildlife conservationists through education. </a> They are an organization that highly speaks of wildlife protection through their products.

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