The birth of three cheetah cubs at Rietvlei Nature Reserve (RNR), south of Pretoria, early in November 2016 has caused great excitement among regular visitors and staff at this 4 000ha reserve.

Their mother, Kiara, has been hiding them away from public eyes, but mother and cubs all seem healthy and thriving. Only a few RNR staff members were fortunate to spot Kiara and her cubs on rare occasions. Their gender is not known at this stage.

Cheetahs were reintroduced at RNR in 2014 when a male cheetah, Sanbona, was purchased with a donation from the Pretoria East branch of the South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association (SA Hunters). They donated R44 000 to RNR to purchase Sanbona and to equip him with a telemetric collar to enable staff to monitor his movement.

In November 2015, Sanbona was joined by Kiara and three other juvenile orphan cheetahs from the Welgevonden Reserve, where their mother died from injuries incurred while hunting. The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT’s) cheetah project assisted in finding a new home for the cubs and RNR was chosen as a suitable, safe haven where the young animals could mature and learn to hunt.

Initially the four juveniles were kept in a boma at RNR and they were released into the reserve in January 2016 to fend for themselves. They adjusted very well and hunted successfully. After a few months, three of the four young cheetahs were relocated to other reserves as part of EWT’s cheetah programme.

Kiara stayed behind with the hope that she and Sanbona would eventually start breeding. However, disaster struck when Kiara was badly injured while hunting, presumably by a black wildebeest that she tried to hunt.

Two injured toes on her front paw had to be amputated and a deep wound on her hind leg took a while to heal. After spending some time in a veterinary clinic, Kiara was moved back into the boma to recuperate. She was released into the reserve months after the injury, but the medical and RNR teams were uncertain if she would be able to hunt successfully again.

Exactly 12 months after Kiara’s arrival at RNR, she surprised everyone with her offspring. According to RNR staff, there is no evidence that her injuries impaired her ability to hunt. She is in excellent condition and takes good care of her cubs. RNR can only accommodate one cheetah breeding pair, so the cubs will be relocated to a suitable location once they are approximately 18 months old and can hunt independently.

The cheetah’s conservation status in Southern Africa is listed as vulnerable and it is essential that the establishment of cheetahs in reserves in South Africa is properly managed according to scientific principles. EWT’s cheetah project maintains a database of cheetah DNA to assist them with research into the gene pool of the cheetah meta population, which is vital to ensure healthy cheetah populations. – SA Hunters

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