Tiger Canyon – cheetah conservation

Tiger Canyon Private Game Reserve’s objective is to conserve and create a separate gene pool for two endangered big cats, the tiger and the cheetah. This game park also boasts a diverse range of mammals such as aardwolf, aardvarks, serval, caracal, Bat-eared fox, Cape fox, Grey mongoose, springbok, zebra, blesbok, kudu, wildebeest and wild horses. There is also an impressive range of birds in the reserve.

“The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those have not viewed the world.” ~ Alexander von Humboldt

Tiger Canyon’s cheetahs are the first to return to this indigenous habitat in over 100 years. Due to the encroachment of sheep farming, there have been no free-roaming cheetahs in the Free State since the early 1900’s.

“The beauty of Africa is not man made, it is natures gift to humanity.” ~ Paul Oxton

Tiger Canyon Private Game Reserve is a member of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Metapopulation Project. As part of this project, cheetah offspring are relocated to other reserves within the Metapopulation in a bid to help increase the cheetah numbers and keep the genetics clean (Source: https://tigercanyon.com/wildlife/).

We watched an adult cheetah chase down, catch and kill an adult springbok. The chase was unusually long so the cheetah did not start to eat immediately but lay next to its kill until it had caught its breath.

“This curious world we inhabit is more wonderful than convenient; more beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

These close up images of an adult cheetah were possible because the cheetah in the reserve are habituated.

We were in the cheetah enclosure around mid-morning on our second day of our stay in Tiger Canyon when we saw this cheetah walking towards a small herd of springbok a few hundred metres away in the long grass with its head down showing intent. The enclosure is massive, probably over 1 000 hectares. The terrain is open and reasonably flat but the grass was relatively long after the good summer rains at the start of the year.

Cheetahs are visual hunters and hunt predominately in diurnal hours when most of the competing big cats are resting.

Once the cheetah had got its breath back, it started to drag its kill a few metres away from where it killed the springbok. There was no shade for the cheetah to pull its prey into to get some relief from the heat of the direct sun.

A cheetah is capable of reaching speeds over 110 kms per hour in just over three seconds. The cheetah’s unique body structure: flexible spine, semi-retractable claws, long legs and tail enable it reach speeds over 100km per hour. The cheetah’s tail is long and flattened in the central section and acts like a rudder at high speeds.

Cheetah are naturally wary predators especially when they have just made a kill. This cheetah fed for a short period then sat up and carefully looked around to ensure there was no encroaching threat.

A blood soaked muzzle. Cheetahs have relative a small head, small ears and high set eyes. The shape of the head and the position of its large eyes facilitate maximum binocular vision. The large nostrils and lungs provide quick air intake necessary for their rapid acceleration and high speed run – which lasts for around 30 seconds. This facial structure also allows this cat to breathe while suffocating their prey.

Cheetah have distinctive black “tear marks” that run from inside the corner of the eyes along the nose down to their mouths. The “tear marks” help in reducing the sun’s glare during daytime hunting. These lines are also thought to act like sights on a rifle which help the cheetah aim when they are running at top speeds after their prey.

Although this cheetah was habituated when anyone got too close to it – and particularly its kill – it snarled and hissed a warning to back off.

The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is classified as vulnerable on the IUCN red data list. Cheetahs face extinction pressure from climate change, hunting by humans, and habitat destruction, which is reducing the size of their populations. Cheetahs’ genes also pose a challenge to their continued survival. Cheetahs have a low rate of reproductive success. With fewer offspring, the population struggles to grow and adapt to changes in the environment. (Source: https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/cheetahs-brink-extinction-again/)

The Cheetah Metapopulation Project was initiated by the Endangered Wildlife Trust in 2011. The project supports cheetah populations in several small reserves, most of them private. While relatively safe in these small reserves, the likelihood of inbreeding remains high. In the wild, cheetahs are wide-ranging carnivores that exist in low densities. By swapping animals between participating reserves, the project helps private and state wildlife custodians to manage overpopulation and underpopulation on their land and identifies new areas of suitable cheetah habitat.

South Africa is home to around 1 300 of the world’s roughly 7 100 remaining cheetahs. It is also the only country in the world with significant cheetah population growth, thanks largely to the Cheetah Metapopulation Project, a conservation project that depends on careful and intensive human management of small, fenced-in cheetah populations. In 2020, there were 419 cheetahs across 60 reserves. (Source: theexpeditionproject.com). Most of the reserves that take part in the Cheetah Metapopulation Project are privately funded. The majority of them rely heavily on tourism revenue to fund conservation.

“Right or Wrong Don’t know

But those things don’t give me Money,
But gives Satisfaction

It consumes my time,
But gives me happiness

Those things can’t give me Future,
But I can’t live without them

These things can’t give me fame,
But adds value to my life

So Conservation is life”
~ Kedar dhepe

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

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