The perilous 1,000-mile journey to save Africa’s endangered black rhinos
28 October 2022
The milestone reintroduction of four cheetahs into Maputo Special Reserve has reached a triumphant conclusion, as the majestic cats bounded their way into their 104 200 hectare new home on 22 October. This followed three weeks of acclimatising in bomas in the reserve. The cheetahs will now take their rightful place in the ecosystem, where they will play an important role in ensuring ecological equilibrium.
Watch Part 1 of our Rewilding Africa: Return of the cheetah series here.
There was great excitement at the release site as the carefully placed and camouflaged guests waited with bated breath to see the cheetahs – two males and two females – take their first steps out of the bomas into the wider reserve. It was a lengthy process as these very cautious cats took their time, eventually exiting the boma one-by-one over the course of a few hours. They were partially motivated by a fresh carcass that was placed a distance from the gate. The younger sub-adult female seemed to be most eager to see her new home, leaving the boma first and encouraging her mother to do the same with urgent chirps and yelps. The two eventually joined up and disappeared into the bountiful habitat of the reserve together. The two males were especially heedful, and only followed quite some time later, each choosing to go off and explore in their own direction.
“We are committed to expanding and safeguarding the precious ecological assets of the Maputo Special Reserve, a region that protects natural heritage of great significance for Mozambique. This project has become yet another historic landmark in Mozambique’s conservation journey and the continued development of the reserve. The reintroduction of the cheetahs, which prey on medium to large-sized herbivores, is a management measure that aims not only to regulate the reserve’s carrying capacity, but also to add a threatened species that can be observed by visitors to the reserve,” said ANAC Director-General Mateus Mutemba.
Using VHF satellite collars, the big cats will now be carefully monitored daily by reserve management and the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), in partnership with the University of Eduardo Mondlane. Initial tracking data shows them crossing significant distances within the reserve’s boundaries as they familiarise themselves with the new environment.
Maputo Special Reserve is being developed through a co-management partnership between Mozambique’s National Administration for Conservation Areas (ANAC) and Peace Parks Foundation. They joined forces with Ashia Cheetah Conservation, the EWT and veterinary partner the Mozambique Wildlife Alliance to bring cheetahs back to the plains of this breath-taking wild space, for the first time in 60 years. Two male cheetahs were flown in from the &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, whilst an adult female and her sub-adult female cub were flown from the Waterval Private Game Reserve (of which Botlierskop Game Reserves & Villas are custodians) near Kimberley in the Northern Cape. The cheetahs were donated by Ashia, who also covered the costs of the translocation, including transportation, vaccination and the fitting of tracking collars to monitor the big cats in their new environment.
With years of effort and resources invested by ANAC and Peace Parks, Maputo Special Reserve has made an emphatic return to the ecologically rich protected area that it was before decades of human impacts devastated wildlife populations.
Through intensive rewilding (made possible with funding support from donors such as the World Bank’s Mozbio programme), along with vastly improved wildlife protection and conservation management strategies, the reserve today provides a safe, well-protected and bountiful habitat for the cheetahs to thrive. There are between 15 000 and 17 000 animals in the reserve, including ideal cheetah prey species such as reedbuck and impala.
We’ve been supporting the Government of Mozambique with the intensive rebuilding and rewilding of Maputo Special Reserve for more than a decade, and finally seeing the ecosystem flourish to the point where we can bring back apex predators, is truly rewarding. The reserve is a beacon of hope – a clear demonstration that it is never too late: if humans play their appropriate part, nature can, and will, restore itself and once and provide those resources vital to all manner of life, yielding a flow of benefits to both humans and nature
Peace Parks Foundation CEO Werner Myburgh
The translocation, which is part of the EWT’s Cheetah Range Expansion Project, is also of significant importance for the conservation of these threatened cats, numbers of which have fallen to an estimated 6 600 individuals in Africa.
The reintroductions under the project have doubled the cheetah metapopulation from 217 animals in 48 protected areas to 478 cheetahs in 67 protected areas across South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi. The metapopulation in this network of protected areas constitutes the only growing wild cheetah population worldwide.
“Wild cheetah populations have been eradicated from 91% of their historical range in Africa and Asia. However, the concerted conservation effort by the Endangered Wildlife Trust over the past decade has now resulted in South Africa being the only country with an increasing cheetah population. The conservation efforts by ANAC and Peace Parks has restored ecological functionality in Maputo Special Reserve, which now has the ecological capacity to support a wild cheetah population of up to 50 individuals. This achievement represents a major step forward in our efforts to reverse the global decline in Cheetah populations beyond the South Africa borders,” explained the EWT’s Cheetah Range Expansion Coordinator Vincent van der Merwe.
Since 2016, Ashia has been successfully reintroducing carefully chosen cheetahs to game reserves and national parks in southern Africa.
The logistics behind the scenes to bring a founder population of four cats in two separate flights to this stunning cheetah habitat were quite challenging and only manageable thanks to the professional and dedicated cooperation of all parties involved. After all the hard work it was rewarding to see these magnificent animals walking out of the holding bomas and claiming their new territory. Peace Parks deserves the greatest respect for creating safe space and a secure future not only for cheetahs but so many more endangered species
Chantal Rischard, Founder of Ashia Cheetah Conservation
Lying within one of the world’s 36 most biologically diverse and threatened ecosystems, Maputo Special Reserve is an essential component of the Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation and Resource Area, combining lakes, wetlands, swamp forests, grasslands and mangrove forests with a pristine coastline. The introduction of cheetahs signifies another success in the ongoing transformation of the reserve into a world-class ecotourism destination, where a variety of tourism projects are already either in operation or in developmental/planning stages.