Legendary Cheetah – Sibella’s Genes Spread Beyond South Africa

Sibella with one of her cubs at Samara Private Game Reserve. Image Supplied

Samara Private Game Reserve’s participation in a project to relocate cheetah to Malawi’s Majete Wildlife Reserve is the latest step in the reserve’s ongoing efforts to conserve and boost cheetah populations.

Samara is one of four South African reserves taking part in the relocation programme, which is coordinated by EWT and African Parks, with the latter additionally acting as a safe space creator. Welgevonden Game Reserve, Madikwe Game Reserve and Dinokeng Game Reserve are also participating in the programme.

Vincent van der Merwe, Cheetah Metapopulation Coordinator at EWT’s Carnivore Conservation Programme, explains that this is the second time South African cheetah have been relocated to Malawi. “The first relocation took place in 2017, and was extremely successful. In fact, the original four-strong founder population has grown to 15 individuals.” Van der Merwe adds that EWT’s ultimate goal is to create a cheetah metapopulation cluster in south central Africa, with reserves in Malawi and, possibly, Zambia and Mozambique going forward. “This metapopulation cluster will, hopefully, contain a number of reserves supporting small cheetah populations, swapping individuals between reserves to ensure genetic and demographic health.”

Samara’s Malawi-bound cheetah is a female born in April 2017; the daughter of Chilli. Chilli herself was a cub of Sibella, one of the most famous cheetahs in recent conservation history, for several reasons: she was the first wild cheetah introduced to the Karoo in 125 years, and her prodigious genes have gone on to populate the region admirably. Sibella reared 19 cubs from four litters during her lifetime, making her either mother, grandmother, great-grandmother or great-great-grandmother to 14.2% of South Africa’s current cheetah metapopulation. Her genes are present in the cheetah inhabiting 17 metapopulation reserves; in fact, one of her great-granddaughters was involved in the very first cheetah relocation to Malawi.

What makes Sibella’s story even more remarkable is her tenacious nature and the heartwarming story behind her survival: born a wild cheetah in the North West Province, her relocation to Samara took place after she was rescued from a cage by the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Trust, having first undergone five-hour surgery and extensive rehabilitation.

Samara’s participation in the programme follows the successful swap of a male from Welgevonden, in exchange for Samara’s male Shadow. The swap was also part of the metapopulation project, aiming to increase genetic diversity on the reserve.

“More than providing an outstanding visitor experience, Samara is committed to animal conservation. Our participation in the cheetah relocation programme is testimony to our passion for the protection of Africa’s species – particularly because the story of Sibella means that we have a very special relationship with cheetah,” concludes Samara’s Sarah Tompkins. For more information on Samara, visit www.samara.co.za

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