So it was a special treat for Ingelore Taylor, from iSimangaliso Authority in Zululand, when a female cheetah and three cubs suddenly appeared at uMkhuze’s Mantuma Camp last weekend.
Taylor and a friend were walking along the paved pathway to the camp swimming pool when they noticed movement in the shade of the tree. Suddenly, there was not only one, but four cheetahs in the grass a few metres away from them.
Knowledgeable about the wild, Taylor knew they had to retreat very slowly, but she also took the chance to get a few pictures.
“The cheetahs were alert but relaxed, and after a few minutes they moved off deeper into the bush,” she said.
The uMkhuze section of iSimangaliso Wetland Park has a current population of nine cheetahs, of which four are female. The species is endangered as are the wild dogs that can also be spotted in the section, which is also home to the Big Five.
Taylor added: “It was a great privilege to encounter this cheetah mother and her three cubs and reminded us that we must always be aware of our surroundings, particularly in an unfenced camp. uMkhuze is truly wild and special.”
The habitat available to such species within relatively small protected areas in southern Africa is limited and requires intensive management. iSimangaliso Wetland Park confirmed all the adults were collared to enable daily monitoring of the animals’ movement, saying cheetah numbers were dynamic and there were hopes the four females would soon boost the population in the park.
“Relocations in and out of the park are necessary to introduce new genetic strains and minimise inbreeding and the recent acquisition of two young male siblings has strengthened the gene pool,” read the statement from iSimangaliso, adding that collars, bought by the park’s Rare and Endangered Species Fund, have recently been fitted to the two brothers.
Wildlife ACT, an NGO which works with the park, conducts daily monitoring of the different species, which has proved to be crucial in keeping tabs on the animals and ensuring swift reaction if any intervention is required - such as in the case of a snaring or injury.
“Sadly a cheetah’s worst enemy remains man and, as such, these collars and close observation can prove to be a lifesaver for these magnificent cats,” said iSimangaliso.
The cheetah is best known for its speed, which at 70km/* , makes it faster than all other animals and considerably faster than leopard or lion. It can only run at full speed for a certain distance, with 91m being the limit, because it may overheat.
Cheetahs are now only found in sub-Saharan Africa, although they used to roam across most of Africa, the plains of southern Asia, the Middle East and India.