Samara Private Game Reserve is part of a cheetah swap that will have significant implications for South Africa’s cheetah metapopulation
The swap, which recently took place, saw Samara’s Shadow (a male cheetah) transported to a new home in Rogge Cloof. In exchange, a male cheetah from the Welgevonden Game Reserve in the Waterberg was brought to live at Samara. The new male cheetah will be kept in an enclosure over the next six weeks before his release in early March.
“The swap is important for several reasons,” said Vincent van der Merwe, the Cheetah Metapopulation Coordinator at the Endangered Wildlife Trust. “For a start, relocations play a critical role in growing South Africa’s cheetah population and expanding its range. Notably, South Africa is one of the only countries in the world where the number of cheetahs is on the increase. The first reintroductions into fenced reserves were made in 1965, when ‘problem’ cheetahs from Namibia were introduced to reserves in South Africa. Since 2011, the South African cheetah metapopulation has grown from 217 individuals on 41 reserves to 357 individuals on 58 reserves.”
Ideally, these populations would be able to breed without intervention, however, growing restrictions on their habitats from development, mining, agriculture and human settlements, mean that they have a limited choice of breeding partners. This ultimately affects the health of the population, because inbreeding causes genetic weakness. By relocating cheetahs to other areas, metapopulations are formed, helping to strengthen the cheetah gene pool. Relocations also help to prevent over – or underpopulation – of specific habitats.
“This is precisely why the introduction of a new male at Samara is a noteworthy event,” Van der Merwe said. “The male from Welgevonden is entirely unrelated to any of the cheetahs currently living at Samara, so we’re introducing new genetics.”
Samara is home to nine cheetahs, including one adult male, one adult female with five cubs, and two sub-adult females.
According to Van der Merwe, Samara’s cheetahs have contributed enormously to the growth of South Africa’s cheetah metapopulation: the reserve’s first cheetah, Sibella, the first cheetah back in the Great Karoo in 130 years, is mother, grandmother, great-grandmother or great-great-grandmother to 14.2% of the metapopulation.
“Her genetics persist on 17 metapopulation reserves, and her great-granddaughters were involved in the milestone reintroduction of cheetah into Malawi, in 2017,” he said.
Notably, the adult female on Samara (Chilli) is the daughter of Sibella, and she appears to be upholding her legacy. Chilli raised her entire first litter to independence, which is almost unheard of in the cheetah world, as first-time mothers are normally not very successful.
Now, as the first cheetah in the Roggeveld since the 1880s, Shadow looks set to uphold the record-breaking reputation of Samara’s cheetahs. Van der Merwe says that the new population in Rogge Cloof will be the 58th metapopulation reserve in South Africa.
Professor Graham Kerley, Director at the Centre for African Conservation Ecology and Professor at the Department of Zoology at the Nelson Mandela University said the thrill of this cheetah running free is not about the individual, but about how it serves as a metaphor for cutting edge conservation through metapopulation management.