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Thursday, 17 May 2012

Update on the re-wildling of four cheetahs

On 18th April, CCF released a coalition of four male cheetahs into a soft release camp, Bellebenno, for them to enhance survival behaviour before being released into the wild


Day 15: 2 May 2012

Early in the morning the coalition was beginning to move away from the captive females the other side of one of the fence lines of Bellebenno.  They were scent marking and hunting along the way.  The males eventually came across a play tree where Livingstone climbed and scratched its low splayed branch.  Soon, the foursome arrived at our campsite, where they sniffed around at the ground.  If any of them attempted to scent mark or drink here I would have had to scare them away, but the cheetahs just sniffed the unfamiliar human dwelling.  Shortly after 10:00 the coalition, led by Fossey as always, made their way back to the captive females where they continuously scent marked their territory.  It was refreshing to know that the males were willing to leave the captive females to hunt, although all were unsuccessful today.  They were  showing great promise this morning.


Day 16 & 17: 3 & 4 May 2012 

It was another roundabout day filled with territorial scent marking and unsuccessful hunting.  It has been nearly a week since their last kill and the coalition seems more lethargic than desired.  If they do not make a kill tomorrow morning, we will intervene and provide the four males with a supplemented warthog carcass.


A refreshing morning away from the captive females, the Scientists were on the move attempting to make a kill in their newly guarded territory.  It was not until the cats separated when we found Mendel scavenging on the intestines of a fresh warthog kill from another predator.  Joël (a CCF intern) and I went to find the other males.  A kilometer away, we found Fossey, Livingstone and Darwin all ravagingly feasting on a male steenbok kill!  Their third kill and it was not nearly enough for three famished cheetahs.  They consumed quickly; so fast, in fact, that Livingstone eventually vomited his portion up.  With two cats (Livingstone and Mendel) that virtually ate nothing today, I decided to feed the coalition half of a warthog carcass.  They devoured the free meal and rested the remainder of the morning, before accomplishing their ritualistic scent marking along the fence line of the captive females’ pen.


Day 18 & 19: 5 & 6 May 2012 

For two days now, the coalition has been continuously marking their territory and pacing the fence line in hopes that one of the captive females would appear.  Luna, a previously released female, would stutter call to the males, driving them into frenzied pacing and calling.  The males would roll on their backs with the sight of Luna following her every stride.  Despite ample opportunities to hunt, the Scientists were more addicted to the enthralling movements of Luna. 


Day 20: 7 May 2012

Three days since the Scientists’ steenbok kill/supplemented warthog carcass and it was growingly apparent that they were starting to get hungry.  They left the captive females early and began moving to new areas in search for food.  Along the way, they discovered another playtree where Livingstone, Fossey and lastly Mendel all climbed and scent marked.  Later the coalition had futile attempts at hunting zebra and warthog.  The males’ hunting skills are often short of efficiency.  They still have a bit to learn in order to be successful and sustainable cheetahs.  Closing the night the males returned to the captive females and marked their territory again.


Day 21: 8 May 2012

Giving the Scientists another chance to sharpen their hunting skills, Rachel and I decided to recapture the males and relocate them to Sukkel Dam, the furthest watering hole in Bellebenno away from the captive females.  Once the relocation was complete we re-released the males and they all began drinking from the waterhole.  Within twenty minutes, all four were seen attempting to hunt oryx and warthog.  Throughout the afternoon the coalition was observed hunting more frequently than ever before.  It may be impossible to keep these males away from the captive female cheetahs, but relocating them will at least give them a higher probability of learning successful hunting skills when not preoccupied by the females’ allure.


Day 22: 9 May 2012

The coalition was moving vast distances again, comparable to the beginning of the release.  Hunting seemed to be their priority, as they attempted to run down oryx, zebra, and warthog.  Around 10:30, Mendel eventually took down a sub-adult warthog in the middle of a road.  He exhibited a proper strangulation hold on the warthog after the 150m chase.  It was good to see that the coalition seemed to be managing fine after the relocation.  By the afternoon, they were on the move again.  Unfortunately they made a beeline 4km straight back to the captive females in less than an hour.  Afterwards they returned to their drinking puddle, which was mostly muddy water as the sun had evaporated the majority of its water; the cheetahs reluctantly drank.  It can be assumed that the coalition will always return to this territory and hunting will be put aside to scent mark the perimeter of the females’ fence line.


Day 23: 10 May 2012

A freezing cold morning and we found all four males lying beside the road in tall grasses huddled on top of one another for warmth.  After a stretch of the forelimbs, back and hind legs, the males began their search for food.  They abandoned the captive females and made their way through the Bellebenno re-wilding site.  On the quest for a kill, the males came across one of the game camp’s watering holes, where, after a brief hunting attempt, all four drank.  Afterwards, the coalition stalked zebra more patiently and proficiently than ever observed before, showing the power of trial and error.   Undoubtedly, with time these males will hone their stalking, hunting and killing techniques and will eventually be able to brave the wild.  After a long morning of failed hunt attempts (oryx, zebra and warthog), the Scientists rested beneath the shade of several trees until later returning to their captive female-occupied territory.


All the best,

Ryan Sucaet

Head of Cheetah Reintroductions


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