06 December 2017 Read: 96
The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and African Parks successfully relocated four Cheetah to Liwonde National Park in Malawi six months ago. This restored the population of the threatened species that went extinct in Malawi some 20 years ago.
Haenertsburg-born Vincent van der Merwe, the EWT Cheetah Metapopulation Coordinator, who recently won a prestigious SANParks Kudu Award for his conservation, explains. In late 2016, the South African wild Cheetah population reached its peak with most safe spaces occupied. The EWT and African Parks thus planned a reintroduction of Cheetah into Liwonde National Park, Malawi.
Liwonde National Park plus two other Malawi reserves, under management of African Parks and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, are well protected with improved security. There is more than 300,000 hectares of safe space for Cheetah. The four Cheetah were taken from Mountain Zebra National Park, Amakhala Private Game Reserve, Phinda Private Game Reserve and Welgevonden Private Game Reserve. They were flown from OR Tambo to Liwonde in a FlyUlendo and Robin Pope Safaris sponsored light aircraft. After a short spell in the newly constructed Liwonde predator bomas, the four were released.
Vincent says EWT was concerned about them adapting as Malawi has spotted hyena and parasites that South African Cheetah do not encounter. The four Cheetah immediately set about feasting on the copious prey available in Liwonde. In mid-July, two Cheetah were seen mating on Chinguni Hill, the highest point in Liwonde. Three months later, Olivia Sievert, the EWT’s Cheetah monitor at Liwonde announced that four cubs, with eyes still closed, had been spotted. A second Cheetah gave birth to at least three cubs recently. Both sets of cubs and their mothers will be monitored. Vincent says that this is a conservation milestone and an indicator of how easily Cheetah can adapt to new environments.
The EWT’s Cheetah Metapopulation Project moves wild Cheetah across a myriad different vegetation types with vastly different climatic variables to ensure the genetic viability of this threatened species. Cheetah have been moved from the Kalahari Desert to the mountainous bushveld of the Waterberg; from thicket vegetation in the Eastern Cape to the grasslands of the Free State; and in the case of the Liwonde reintroduction, from the Karoo semi-desert, where temperatures drop as low as minus ten degrees Celsius, to the floodplain grasslands of central Africa, where temperatures soar up to 50 degrees Celsius.
Vincent has overseen the growth of the Cheetah metapopulation from 217 Cheetah on 41 reserves to 336 on 55 reserves. This was facilitated by Vincent’s working relationship with SANParks reserve management at Mountain Zebra National Park in the Eastern Cape where Cheetah thrive. The reserve has made 42 Cheetah available to the metapopulation since 2011 and has taken five. The 42 Cheetah were relocated to 17 reserves across the country where they brought in new genetics, stimulating growth in these reserves.
The EWT is a credible, impactful player in regional conservation, committed to identifying key factors threatening biodiversity and developing innovative methodologies and best practice to reduce these and promote harmonious co-existence and sustainable living for both people and wildlife.
African Parks, a non-profit conservation organisation, takes on the rehabilitation and long-term management of national parks together with governments and local communities. With the largest counter-poaching force and the most amount of area under protection of any NGO in Africa, African Parks manages 12 national parks and protected areas in eight countries covering seven million hectares: Benin, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, the Republic of Congo and Rwanda.
Humans have increased 20-fold over the past 600 years and continue to multiply. It is no longer safe for Cheetah to traverse landscape. Only human intervention and fences can facilitate the gene flow between fragmented Cheetah populations. The fences prevent them from entering areas where they are treated as vermin. South Africa and Malawi are the only countries worldwide with growing wild Cheetah populations.
Vincent’s PhD research found that bounties were claimed for 4268 Leopard and Cheetah killed in the Cape Colony between 1889 and 1956. He struggled with the two species because Leopards were referred to as ‘tyger’ in early Afrikaans whilst Cheetah was referred to as ‘luiperd’. After 1928, the term ‘tyger’ was dropped and Leopards became ‘luiperd’ and Cheetah became ‘jagluiperd’.
Vincent said that the help from SANParks, African Parks, EZEMVELO and the 39 privately owned game reserves has made this a conservation success story.