The fastest land animal on earth is considered extinct in over 20 African countries, largely due to habitat loss. The cheetah can reach 112 km/ph in just three seconds, but sadly this magnificent creature is on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species.
South Africa, however is a cheetah conservation success story, with the population increasing from four hundred animals in 1965 to almost 1 300 today. One of the most exciting conservation programmes is Lapalala Wilderness Reserve’s Commitment to the Cheetah.
This reintroduction and management programme started four years ago. Although the rugged terrain of Lapalala Wilderness Reserve is not the perfect habitat for cheetah, the reserve deliberately maintains a low density of lion, the cheetah’s main predator to make it viable. Preference would be flat plain areas where prey is more abundant, but this is also where lions are more prevalent.
The first cheetahs were reintroduced on the Reserve in early 2019 resulting in a total of 9 adults to date, the birth of five litters of cubs and the successful relocation of one animal born on the reserve to another reserve within Southern Africa.
Very high frequency satellite collars are attached to both male and female cheetahs for monitoring. They are non- invasive, never weigh more than 4–5% of the cheetahs body weight, and last for 1-2 years. A tracker uses a receiver and directional antenna to locate their position and monitor their habits and well-being. This includes the territory they cover, kill sites, and reproductive behaviour.
Guests staying at either the luxurious Lepogo Lodges Noka Camp or the eco-friendly tents at Tintswalo Lapalala are allowed to take part in cheetah monitoring activities which includes tracking them on foot where they can then spend some time observing and photographing their behaviour from a safe vantage point. Although the mature cats spend many hours resting during the hotter periods of the day, the interaction of the cubs and juveniles is always fascinating to watch.