Cheetah : Acinonyx jubatus
According to the National Red Data book (2004), the cheetah is currently listed as Vulnerable in South Africa. This is an improved situation, compared to the global listing of the species as Endangered in 1973.
Estimates of cheetah population numbers are never accurate as the animal occurs in low densities in nature and is not easily seen in the wild. The total population worldwide is estimated to be between 7 000 and 12 000. South Africa’s total is approximately 1 500. Of these 250 to 300 are found in nature reserves; 600 are free ranging wild animals; and 550 are in captivity.
Cheetah populations are genetically very uniform or monomorphic. Wild cheetahs often occur in small isolated or patch populations that lead to further narrowing of the gene pool. Therefore, HESC’s breeding programme aims to ensure the birth of cheetahs with distinctly different genetic lineages. Where possible these animals are used to support gene diversity in wild populations.
Cheetahs that have been bred in captivity can be released in protected areas in the wild after the animals have gone through a process of adjustment or ‘rewilding’. During this period the animals are transferred to large enclosed areas which have a suitable prey base in a habitat of mixed open savanna and grassland, as cheetahs prefer open areas to hunt. Then the rations fed to the animals are reduced over time so as to entice them to hunt natural prey. The animals need to be closely monitored during this time to evaluate their suitability for possible reintroduction. It is preferable that the wilding area is free of predators , or has a low population of predators that may prey upon the cheetahs as captive bred animals will need time to adapt and become aware of the threat to survival that other predators may represent.
African wild dog : Lycaon pictus
The African wild dog, also commonly referred to as the wild dog, Cape hunting dog and painted dog, is listed as Endangered in the National Red Data book (2004). The African wild dog is regarded as one of the most endangered predators in the world, but sadly it does not get as much attention as larger predators.
Their migratory habits create difficulty in ascertaining the existing number of the wild population. In South Africa, however, it is estimated that there are more than 250 animals, including about 50 breeding pairs, in the wild. The total population of wild dogs is estimated at between 3 000 and 5 000 individuals worldwide.
African wild dogs require large protected areas with a suitably large prey base to support them. At this stage wild dog populations are limited to the Kruger National Park, Hluhluwe-Umfolozi, Marakele, Pilansberg and Venetia Game Reserves.
Small populations of between five and seven wild dogs have also been introduced in Shambala, Karongwe and Shamwari private game reserves. Other than the Kruger National Park with an estimated 25 breeding pairs of dogs, the smaller reserves are limited to only one or two breeding pairs per reserve.
So far limited successes have been achieved with the incorporation of captive bred wild dogs into wild packs. Captive bred wild dogs destined for possible reintroduction into the wild should be reared in larger camps where exposure to humans is limited as much as possible. These animals will have to undergo gradual ‘rewilding’ and controlled contact with wild animals before attempts could be successful.
HESC’s African wild dog breeding programme saw the birth of 154 pups from 1991 to 2008.