– Kuzuko welcomes Jasmin the cheetah, in a conservation effort that will see her eventual release into the wild
As part of its ongoing conservation efforts, Kuzuko Lodge has kicked off a project which will see a captive born female cheetah released into the wild. The project comes as a result of a partnership formed between Kuzuko Lodge and Ashia Cheetah Conservation a registered non-profit company, of which the cheetah will be the first from Ashia to be “wilded”.
Named Jasmin, the four-year-old female cheetah has already taken her first steps towards being “wilded” and is in the initial holding boma at Kuzuko, situated in the greater Addo area in the Eastern Cape, where she is being introduced to the elements under the careful watch of Mother Nature and the Kuzuko conservation team. According to Gerhard de Lange, Reserve General Manager at Kuzuko Lodge a member of the Legacy Hotels & Resorts Group, Jasmin was identified as the perfect candidate because she exhibited a number of natural characteristics he believes will make her transition that much smoother.
“The South African cheetah population is under threat, in part as a result of habitat loss but also as a result of the ongoing trade in live animals and poaching. The success of this project will not only help us increase the cheetah population at Kuzuko, but will lay the foundation for a much bigger conservation future for these big cats,” states De Lange.
Jasmin is in good company, currently taking up residence in the same boma De Lange and his team used to firstly rehabilitate the famous Sylvester the Lion who has been in residence at Kuzuko since May 2016. Secondly, and more notably, the boma was also the initial home for Nika and Angel, two orphan lioness cubs who were raised to be wild from a mere five months old and have successfully been released into the reserve where they now hunt and thrive, forming a pride with Sylvester and his male counterpart Fielies (another lion on the reserve which had an uncertain future). “The rehabilitation of the two orphaned female cubs back into the wild was a roaring success as we are not able to call them, walk with them and never touched them”. States De Lange proudly.
After being darted and collared for her journey from Ashia’s partner project Cheetah Experience Bloemfontein, she was successfully released into the boma after an uneventful seven hour journey. De Lange says she has been curious of her surroundings from the minute she took her first steps on Kuzuko, and with no prompting has already exhibited all the natural instincts he looked for when he first met her a number of months ago in her enclosure in Bloemfontein.
“Sadly cheetahs are easily domesticated, which is one of the reasons they are under threat. When looking for a cheetah female to introduce at Kuzuko, where we already have two male cheetahs, I was introduced to Jasmin and spent several hours observing her from a distance. She showed a number of signs that identified her as the perfect candidate, including looking up and around her constantly while she feeds.
“Since her release into the boma she has already fed on her first ever carcass, a huge litmus test for her. At first she was wary of the carcass, but soon realised this is food and approached it in exactly the same way a cheetah in the wild would. She disembowelled it, ate the innards, cracked the cartilage at the joints and devoured the whole animal. All of this in just four days. No one has taught her, no one prompted her, we keep our distance entirely and let Mother Nature do her work – and she seems to be at work already,” adds De Lange.
Looking ahead, Jasmin’s ultimate release will be part of a carefully planned and orchestrated programme. From her smaller boma there will be a soft release into a larger 300 HA area, where she will be encouraged to hunt on her own. Here she will also be able to patrol the fence and be exposed to the other animals on the reserve, including the lions.
“The lions will be her biggest test. She will need to show signs of fear and respect for the lions as they are a cheetah’s biggest natural enemy. When she shows that she is wary of them, has been able to hunt on her own and exhibited other behaviour traits we are looking for – we will be able to then start calculating her ultimate release into the 15 000 HA reserve,” he says. “If at any stage during her wilding process she does not exhibit the wanted signs we are looking for I will pull the plug on the process.” Says De lange.
Jasmin’s success will not only be a win for the cheetah population of Kuzuko and testimony to the work of Ashia. But will also be a milestone for the South African cheetah population as a whole – as there are currently more wildlife areas looking to increase their cheetah numbers. Furthermore, the greater population of free roaming cheetah in South Africa currently share a tightly knit DNA code. Another reason as to why Jasmin was selected is that her DNA is unique, and when released into the metapopulation her offspring will be able to add diversified DNA into the existing species. “If this wilding process bears the wanted fruits, Jasmin will open the doors we need opened to enlarge the genetic diversity of cheetahs in Sub-Saharan Africa! Says De Lange.
“She has a long road ahead of her and has even experienced her first hail storm here in the bush. But we have faith in her, she already has the right attitude and Mother Nature is an incredible master, she will quickly help her find her instincts and fine-tune them for her release as a wild cheetah here at Kuzuko,” ends De Lange.
Kuzuko Lodge – We Make Conservation Happen.
ABOUT KUZUKO LODGE
Kuzuko Lodge is build high up on a hill in a 15 000ha private game reserve situated in the Malaria free greater Addo area which is situated in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. This reserve is perfectly situated to start or complete a trip along the Garden Route with. Guests are housed in 24 chalets of which three are wheelchair accessible. Kuzuko is part of the Legacy Hotels & Resorts Group and is a member of the Inqo Investments Social Impact Investment Group, which combines job creation, conservation and social transformation.
Please visit www.kuzuko.com or www.kuzukolodge.co.za or phone +27 42 203 1700 for more detailed information.