Vanishing Spots

Ashia’s first documentary focuses on not only the plight of the fastest land mammal on earth, but also a new approach to address this conservation issue where captive-born cheetah are being successfully ‘wilded’ through an innovative approach to preserving an iconic species, and a collaborative partnership of stakeholders.

The cheetah has become Africa’s most endangered big cat. From a count of 100 000 in 1900, the numbers have dropped to under 7 000 in the wild today. Cheetah are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red list due to human-wildlife conflict, poaching, trophy hunting, poorly regulated captive trade and illegal pet trade. The biggest threat however is due to an increasing loss of habitat.

Mankind’s ever-expanding agricultural activity and urban development has led to a fragmentation of the cheetah’s habitat. For the best chance of survival, “wild” cheetah in South Africa are managed in fenced reserves and kept away from farmland. As cheetah require vast areas, most reserves only have the capacity to hold limited numbers.

To prevent inbreeding once the animals produce offspring, the Endangered Wildlife Trust established the “Cheetah Meta-Population Project” in 2011 which currently manages around 380 cheetah living in 58 protected areas. Ethical breeding in captivity has become essential to ensure the long-term survival and viable genetic diversity of the species. Ashia, based in Paarl just outside Cape Town, is a world-class cheetah sanctuary, certified by Fair Trade Tourism at the beginning of 2019 and is the base of Ashia’s cheetah conservation programme.

The release of a captive-born cheetah into the wild – the first of many to come for Ashia – is a true win for conservation on numerous fronts, with a large part of the achievement being the successful collaboration between the various stakeholders involved.