New cheetah genes introduced into Mountain Zebra National Park

AUGUST 12, 2015

A new female cheetah was released into Mountain Zebra National Park outside Cradock in the Eastern Cape today – introducing new genes into the park in the process.

The four year-old female arrived in the Park from the Dinokeng Game Reserve in Gauteng on Wednesday 15 July.  She has been in a boma since, acclimatising to the area before her release.  She was also fitted with a tracking collar so that park management can monitor her movements and her interaction with other animals. 

“The new cheetah represents a valuable addition to our cheetah population in the Park, as she brings a new mix of genes which will improve genetic health,” said Park Manager, Megan Taplin.

Her introduction is part of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT) Cheetah Metapopulation Project.  Established in 2011, it is a co-ordinated approach for the management of about 300 cheetah in over 50 reserves across the country. 

Project co-ordinator, Vincent van der Merwe, says a managed population is a set of geographically isolated populations of the same species that exchange individuals through human-controlled movement.  Fenced metapopulations need to be managed to prevent the undesired effects of inbreeding. 

The project is a collaborative effort between all cheetah reserves in South Africa, co-ordinated by the EWT and funded by National Geographic, St Louis Zoo, Columbus Zoo, Scoville Zoo and generous donations.

“Over the past eight years, Mountain Zebra National Park has been the biggest contributor to the country’s metapopulation, making 24 of their cheetah available.  During this time, park management has only requested two cheetah from the project in order to alleviate genetic concerns,” says van der Merwe. 

Mountain Zebra National Park first introduced cheetah into the Park in July 2007 – two males and two females.  Over the next three years, the Park’s cheetah population rose to 33.  To prevent in-breeding, sub-adult cheetah as well as some cheetah females with their cubs were captured and relocated to other reserves across South Africa.  The latest release brings to eight the number of cheetah currently in the Park.

Taplin said that the new female would not be contracepted in the hope that any cubs she might produce would be moved to other national parks and game reserves in the future to boost cheetah metapopulation numbers.

Female cheetah have been allowed to breed in the past two years to ensure that any effect of predation by lions – which are known to kill cheetah to reduce competition for prey – is mitigated.

“This new female has been able to rear a litter of cubs successfully in the presence of other predators including lion in her previous home, so we hope that she will be able to do so once again in Mountain Zebra National Park,” Taplin continued.

Mountain Zebra National Park will be providing a sub-adult female cheetah to Dinokeng Game Reserve in the next few months, once capture is possible, as part of their ongoing involvement in the EWT cheetah project.