Nature’s Corner – Four cheetahs “leave the nest”

By Alana Bailey

A year ago we reported on Njozi the cheetah who surprised the conservationists of Rietvlei Nature Reserve on 14 March 2022 when she made her appearance with five cubs. It was estimated that they were about six weeks old at the time. For the first six weeks of their lives, cubs will be hidden by their mothers and the hiding places will also be moved frequently. After that, the cubs start to move around in the veld with their mothers and feed on the prey that she catches until they become independent.

Cheetahs have been relocated to this reserve since 2002 and it forms part of a national breeding program. Males are rotated to ensure that the gene pool of the cheetahs remains healthy and the cubs that are born here, are also eventually relocated to other reserves as they mature. In September 2021, a male, Thaba, was released here as a partner for Njozi.

Most people know that cheetahs are the fastest land animals and can reach speeds of 80 to 128 kilometres per hour. What is less well known, is that females usually lead a single nomadic life, except when they are raising their cubs. Males are sometimes single, or live in coalition with other males. The gestation period is three months and cheetahs can give birth to three to eight cubs. The cubs’ napes, shoulders and backs are initially covered with long, grey-blue hair to camouflage them, but eventually fall out. From as young as six months they can start killing prey themselves, but only at about twenty months will the cubs leave their mother. Males reach an average lifespan of ten years and females fourteen to fifteen years.

Njozi and her five cubs have been a major attraction since their first appearance and have been photographed thousands of times. They have also provided a lot of fun, like the time they jumped on the back of a visitor’s bakkie, and when they recently took residence in one of the reserve’s bird hides.

However, the time has now come for the four males to say goodbye. They are now independent and must be housed in other reserves for the sake of the wellbeing of the gene pool and the breeding program mentioned above. Two of them are going to the Nyosi Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape and the other two to the Tshukudu Game Reserve in Limpopo. The remaining cheetah (a female) will stay with her mother for a while and then be moved to the Makutsi Nature Reserve in Limpopo.

Previously, thirteen cheetahs had already been relocated from this small reserve close to the city centre of Pretoria. It has been part of the Trust for Endangered Wildlife’s Metapopulation Cheetah Conservation Project since 2014 and plays an important role in the conservation of these majestic animals.​

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