As the world celebrates International Cheetah Day today (4 December 2017), Mountain Zebra National Park (MZNP) outside Cradock in the Eastern Cape also celebrates ten years since the reintroduction of the species in 2007 after being absent from the plains of the Karoo for 130 years.
The Park has enjoyed a number of successes with cheetah since the arrival of two male and two female cheetah a decade ago – most notably being able to boast that it is the only national park to offer a cheetah tracking activity and also that it has 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,” says Head of Corporate Communications, Janine Raftopoulos.
Since their introduction, the Park’s cheetah population thrived, with the birth of 29 cubs within the first five years. To curb them from interbreeding, the animals are 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 cheetah on more than 50 small fenced reserves throughout South Africa,” continues Raftopoulos.
Only a few cheetah can 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 manages all predators in terms of social units and by mimicking natural processes.
There are currently six cheetah in the Park, of which two are collared and are the cheetah guests can encounter should they participate in the cheetah tracking activity, which is what 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.
Cheetah tracking starts at 07h30 in the summer months and 08h30 in winter. Bookings are essential, as a maximum of eight people can be accommodated at a time at a rate of R400 per person. The activity is open to people between the ages of 12 and 65. If participants are older than 65 years and wish to undertake the activity, they will be required to submit a doctor’s certificate stating they are medically fit to undertake a hike in rugged terrain.