Wherever they occur, all that cheetah are left with are fragments of natural habitat. In South Africa, wildlife reserves are fenced to guarantee limited human movement, cut down poaching and snaring and thus creating a safe space not only for cheetahs but all of our few remaining wildlife. The disadvantage of fencing is limited gene flow. In order to prevent inbreeding within the South African Cheetah Metapopulation, cheetah individuals have to be swapped between reserves, which is coordinated by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT).
The relatedness of the South African reserve populations – forming the Metapopulation – is, however, becoming an issue and preventing inbreeding without supplementation from outside populations will be practically impossible. Given the limited numbers in the wild, the release of captive-born cheetahs from the scientific breeding program with strict DNA testing and accurate records on origin and parentage is a promising way to respond to the urgent need of reintroducing new bloodlines to strengthen the wild populations of selected Private Game Reserves and National Parks.
Ashia started its Wilding and Release Program in 2017 meeting with conservation and special cheetah experts, drafting first designs and initiating discussions with suitable game reserves. It finally went live August 2018 in partnership with Kuzuko Lodge, a 15,000ha private game reserve in the Greater Addo area, Eastern Cape (home of “Sylvester The Lion”). Kuzuko is part of the Legacy Hotels & Resorts Group and is a member of the Inqo Investments Social Impact Investment Group, which combines job creation, conservation and social transformation.
Three wilding sections between 300-600ha were fenced off within the main reserve, each section containing holding bomas for the cheetah to acclimatize for a short while to their new wild environment after translocation from Ashia.
The successful Ashia/Kuzuko wilding and release model sees a promising replication on other South African Private Game Reserves, in cooperation with Ashia.
Since 2018, many captive-born cheetahs have successfully been wilded and released within the South Africa Cheetah Metapopulation, coordinated by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT). The litters born in the wild as offspring between once captive-born males/females and wild resident cheetah will help to increase the genetic diversity of the species.
- Preparation at Ashia in Paarl
- Change of diet to only game meat
- Introduction of fasting days
- Limitation of human contact
- Fitness program with frequent runs (running field with lure system)
- DNA testing, detailed health checks and vaccinations
- Translocation from Ashia to the reserve, where the animal acclimatizes by spending 3-4 weeks in a boma (smaller holding area)
- Release into a secure, predator-free wilding section within the reserve (300-600ha) to develop and fine-tune hunting skills
- Restocking these wilding sections with life prey
- Complete hands-off approach
- Daily morning monitoring – then leaving them alone
- Supplement feeding if needed
- Give them time to go wild
Ashia is continuously rewilding captive-born cheetah and releasing self-sustaining cats into pre-selected areas identified, inspected and approved by Ashia’s management. Whenever a cat is ready to leave the wilding program for the final release, the available space in the wilding sections is immediately used to prepare the next generation for their walk on the wild side.
The Wilding and Release Program is managed and financed by the founders of Ashia, Chantal Rischard, and Stephan Illenberger.
Ashia is fully supportive of all ethical research programs that will assist in the conservation of the cheetah. Ashia offers universities space to conduct animal related studies. Our Volunteer House is thus not only dedicated to local and international volunteers, but also scientists.
Ashia has relationships in place with universities in South Africa and we encourage students from all years of study to explore research options with us, whether it is for data collection or qualitive studies. Experienced staff members offer guidance, mentoring and assistance to students conducting research programs.