August of this year Cheetah Conservation Fund became the guardian of five newly orphaned cheetah cubs. Their mother was killed while hunting on a game farm near Waterberg, so our cheetah team drove out to pick-up the four-month-old cubs. They had been in a trap for a few days; fortunately it’s currently winter in Namibia so they were not in danger of overheating, but they were all very scared and tired.
These cubs are very young, although we will do all we can to try to see their possible re-wilding, they may not succeed and therefore may stay at CCF for the rest of their lives. We are currently assessing their health and getting them accustomed to their new surroundings. We need support more than ever to help provide care and treatment for them. Their arrival was unanticipated and the reason they are with us is truly tragic.
These little cubs are not the only orphans new to CCF. Just recently, Zinzi, a re-wilded cheetah, who successfully raised her wild-born cubs and has been followed by CCF's supporters for the past few years was killed by a leopard in the wild, leaving three orphaned cubs behind. On 13 August 2016, we had to say goodbye to Zinzi. Sometime during the evening before, while travelling with her cubs Zinzi came across a leopard. We can't be 100% clear on the specifics of what happened but it does appear that the leopard managed to catch and kill Zinzi while she was defending her cubs. Regardless of what happened exactly, with her last act Zinzi once again proved herself a supermom as the next day we confirmed that all three of her cubs had survived the incident. We immediately devised a plan and we successfully captured all three. At 11 months old, the cubs would not have had good chances of survival on their own, but just like their mother we will plan to release them when they are old enough to take care of themselves. Though we are all so incredibly saddened by the loss of Zinzi, we know that her legacy will continue through her three cubs that she had raised so very well. Zinzi's release was successful and though her life ended early, the cause was completely natural and could have happened to any wild cheetah.
Though CCF runs a rescue, having cheetahs in captivity has never been, and never will be our goal. As much as we can, we try our best to return as many cheetahs as possible to the wild where they belong. This process however is incredibly difficult and the majority of our resident cheetahs are not suitable for release into the wild.
A wild cheetah, particularly a female, has a very difficult life. From the time that she leaves her mother and any of her siblings (brothers and sisters alike), she is on her own. The only time she will have contact with other cheetahs is briefly (just a couple days) when she is mating or when she has cubs (together an average of 18 months). When she is mating, eating/hunting is not on the agenda and when she has cubs, she has on average four to six hungry mouths to feed in addition to her own with literally no support from other individuals. Once her cubs are over one year of age, they will start assisting with hunts but often times they are more trouble than help as their immature antics will often ruin hunts. The cubs improve substantially over time with teaching from mom, but by the time they really get good at hunting it's time to leave mom and head out into the world on their own and the female cheetah starts the entire process all over again. Therefore, it's safe to say that a female cheetah is more or less 100% dependent upon herself, and for many months of her life has cubs that are 100% dependent upon her and her alone. This is why we say all the time that female cheetahs are SuperMoms, and if you ever get to see the process first hand you will undoutedly agree.
Zinzi the Cheetah
Zinzi and cubs caught on camera trap
Zinzi and cub with same intimidation pose