When it comes to helping the world’s fastest feline win the race against its extinction, the conservation team at Mabula Private Game Reserve certainly have something to celebrate yesterday, 4 December – International Cheetah Day.
Just a two-hour drive from Johannesburg in the Waterberg region of Limpopo Province, the 12 000-hectare reserve has made great strides in helping to preserve the cheetah population in southern Africa.
Currently, there’s three adult cheetah – a coalition of two males, and a female – and two cubs, aged 15 months, on the reserve.
Working with the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) since 2011, Mabula is part of a cheetah conservation programme called the Metapopulation Management Project.
Preller Human, Mabula Reserve Ecologist explains that as part of the project, “surplus cheetah born on Mabula (and other reserves which are part of the project) have been introduced to reserves which have the space to house them and have the capability of producing a breeding viable cheetah population”.
He adds that the EWT manages the genetic lines of the cheetah population in southern Africa through an extensive data base. “They carefully plan which cheetahs go where to ensure the genetic pool becomes stronger.”
In total, 11 Mabula cubs have been moved to various reserves in southern Africa since 2016, of which four were female and subsequently given birth on multiple occasions.
The reserve also moved its first female cheetah to Entabeni, a private game reserve in Limpopo in 2016 and two male cheetahs to Mountain Zebra National Park in the Eastern Cape and the Maputo Special Reserve in Mozambique respectively.
While the EWT controls the data base relating to the cheetahs at Mabula, the task of managing them on the reserve rests with the Reserve Ecology team.
Human explains that the cheetahs are fitted with GPS collars that help them track and monitor their activity and movements. “It’s very important for a reserve the size of Mabula to know the trends in predator species selection (what animals the cheetahs have killed to survive) and utilization of carcasses, so we monitor the cheetahs daily.”
In addition, the team checks up on the cheetahs’ eyesight and mobility, and look out for any injuries, which might require veterinarian work.
Human emphasises they try, as far as possible, to eliminate their impact on the cheetah population at the reserve to allow their natural behaviour to take its course.
He concludes that the cheetah population on Mabula plays a vital role in the ecology of the reserve – “the cheetah filling a specific predator niche, capable of removing weaker genetics from the antelope populations roaming on the reserve.”