A win for conservation at Kuzuko Lodge
Ashia Cheetah Conservation, a registered non-profit company, has accomplished the first phase of the release of a four-year old captive-born cheetah named Jasmin, into the protected wild. The non-profit company was set up to finance and manage the Release Programme of Ashia, a new world-class sanctuary and working farm outside Paarl in South Africa’s Western Cape.
Ashia’s first release took place at Kuzuko Lodge on Wednesday 29 August, a private game reserve in the greater Addo area managed by the Legacy Hotels & Resorts Group. Jasmin grew up at Ashia’s partner project Cheetah Experience Bloemfontein, owned by Riana van Nieuwenhuizen, a director of the sanctuary and a board member of the non-profit company.
‘The cheetah has become Africa’s most endangered big cat. From a count of 100 000 in 1900, the numbers have dropped to under 7 000 today. Ethical breeding in captivity has become essential to ensure the long-term survival and viable genetic diversity of the species. The release of a captive-born cheetah into the wild – the first of many to come for Ashia – is a true win for conservation on numerous fronts, with a large part of the achievement being the successful collaboration between the various stakeholders involved,’ says Chantal Rischard, co-founder at Ashia.
After initial visits to Kuzuko Lodge and discussions with its Reserve general manager, Gerhard de Lange, it was found that this private game reserve in the Eastern Cape would be the ideal location for the first release of an Ashia cheetah into a protected wild area. The experience, passion and dedication Gerhard and his rangers showed for cheetahs and other big cats, as well as the suitable terrain, stunning location and substantial size of the reserve convinced Ashia’s team that they had found the right place for Jasmin to take her first steps into the wild. Furthermore, Kuzuko Lodge is a member of Inqo Investments Social Impact Investment Group, which combines job creation, conservation and transformation.
Jasmin, the first feline to be the chosen for the Cheetah Release Programme, made her way to her new home after a smooth and uneventful seven-hour drive from Cheetah Experience Bloemfontein, which has been her home for the past four years. On her arrival at Kuzuko Lodge she was released into a boma, a special enclosure which will be her initial home for a short period; here she will be encouraged to acclimatise to her new surroundings.
From here, Jasmin will be released into a larger 300 ha enclosure, the next step in her reintegration before her eventual release into the expanse of the 15 000 ha reserve. Feisty and independent, Jasmin has settled in well so far and will soon be introduced to the other two resident male cheetahs on the reserve.
‘There are a number of factors to consider when ‘wilding’ a cheetah born in captivity. Firstly, they need to have the right fight and flight responses, which can be evidenced in the way they feed and how they engage with people. Jasmin ticked all the boxes and in her short time in the boma, she is already exhibiting numerous traits that we believe will assist her smooth transition into the greater Kuzuko,’ states De Lange.
According to De Lange, while Jasmin is in the 300-ha area, a gradual process of introduction to a small and well monitored lion pride will be undertaken, to allow her natural protective instincts to kick in. Lions are generally a cheetah’s biggest threat in a wilderness area; by letting the lions come up to the fence Jasmin will be afforded the opportunity to identify them as a threat in her new environment, allowing her to respond accordingly once she is released into the reserve.
Daily monitoring is currently being undertaken by the Kuzuko conservation team, and Jasmin has been fitted with a tracking collar to enable them to keep a close eye on her once she is released into the larger enclosure.
Like Jasmin, further captive-born cheetahs will be released into the protected wild of selected Private Game Reserves in South Africa through Ashia’s Release Programme. Several potential game reserves have already been identified and visited and are in the process of applying for the necessary permits.