Born captive, running free...

By LUKE FOLB Time of article published Sep 16, 2018

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Cape Town - Jasmin is exceptionally cheeky and energetic.

But those are just some of the endearing qualities the cheetah cub’s handler and co-founder of Ashia Cheetah Conservation, Chantal Rischard, is going to miss about her.

The 4-year-old big cat was returned to the wild last week after she was raised in captivity. Jasmin is one of the first cheetahs born into captivity to be released back into a reserve.

Ashia Cheetah Conservation, based in Bloemfontein, was her home for the past four years. The cheetah was transported to the Kuzuko Lodge in the Eastern Cape where she was placed in the care of game ranger Gerhard de Lange.

On her arrival at the lodge she was released into a boma, a special enclosure which will help her adapt to her new home and encourage her to acclimatise to her new surroundings.

De Lange said that the perception that cheetahs couldn’t be placed back into the wild was false. With the right climate a cheetah could thrive being back in its natural habitat.

“It is totally possible to put a cheetah back into the wild. Their natural instincts kick in, the biggest one is the inherent instinct to survive,” said De Lange.

But he admitted to challenges. “In Jasmin’s case we are releasing her into an initial 300-hectare camp to encourage a ‘through the fence encounter’ with the lions to gauge her reaction. Lions are a cheetah’s biggest enemy in the wild so we will quickly be able to see how she responds.”

In the camp there are animals that Jasmin will be able to hunt and once she has proven that she can show the lions “respect” she will be placed in a 15000-hectare expanse that also includes two male cheetahs.

De Lange said the best way to bring up a cheetah in captivity to be re-entered into the wild was to ensure minimal human contact. The animals also had to have the right fight-and-flight responses, which was evident in the way they fed and how they engaged with people.

“(She) is better day by day. When we gave her her first carcass she was very suspicious of it, then she took it, disembowelled it and ate all the organs and cartilage, breaking open the joints - exactly as she would in the wild and nobody taught her that,” said De Lange.

Rischard said the cheetah was South Africa’s most endangered big cat. Numbers have decreased from 100000 in 1900 to under 7000 today.

“Ethical breeding in captivity has become essential to ensure the long-term survival and viable genetic diversity of the species,” said Rischard.

Kuzuko is also home to the lion, Sylvester, who gained notoriety after escaping from the Kruger National Park twice, walking more than 370km outside of the park. This week it was discovered that Sylvester’s lioness partner, Angel, had birthed two cubs in June.

According to De Lange, the cubs are approximately 12 weeks old and in good health. Their mother Angel, is another success story, as she was rescued at 5 months old with her sister as an orphan and instead of being tamed or raised in captivity, De Lange and his reserve team raised them in the wild.

Weekend Argus 

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