CRADOCK – As the world celebrates International Cheetah Day on Monday, the Mountain Zebra National Park (MZNP) outside Cradock in the Eastern Cape also celebrates 10 years since the reintroduction of the species in 2007 after being absent from the plains of the Karoo for 130 years, the South African National Parks (SANParks) said.
The park had enjoyed a number of successes with cheetahs since the arrival of two male and two female cheetahs a decade ago – most notably being able to boast that it was the only national park to offer a cheetah tracking activity and also that it had been instrumental in contributing towards national initiatives to conserve the species through working with the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT).
“It is South African National Parks policy to reintroduce wildlife species which would have occurred in an area before hunting or habitat loss forced them to local extinction in earlier centuries,” SANParks corporate communications head Janine Raftopoulos said.
Since their introduction, the park’s cheetah population had thrived, with the birth of 29 cubs within the first five years. To curb them from interbreeding, the animals were regularly relocated to a number of different reserves throughout South Africa – contributing significantly to the EWT’s Cheetah Metapopulation Project.
“This project ensures adequate genetic viability and contributes towards national initiatives to conserve the species, and entails the management of over 300 cheetahs on more than 50 small fenced reserves throughout South Africa,” Raftopoulos said.
Only a few cheetahs could be sustained at any given time – dependent on the prey populations in the park. Depending on these numbers, animals may have to be moved to or from other reserves. SANParks managed all predators in terms of social units and by mimicking natural processes.
“There are currently six cheetahs in the park, of which two are collared and are the cheetahs guests can encounter, should they participate in the cheetah tracking activity, which is what the MZNP is renowned for.
“The tracking involves guests going out in a game drive vehicle with a trained guide who then tries to pick up the signal on his telemetry device which is emitted from the collars of the animals. Cheetah tracking also includes a game drive where guides showcase the natural flora and fauna in the park,” she said.