Cheetah : Acinonyx jubatus
According to the 2016 Red List of Mammals of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, the cheetah continues to be listed as Vulnerable in South Africa.
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. A recently published study (December 2016) by ZSL (Zoological Society of London), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Panthera, reveals that just 7,100 cheetahs remain globally, representing the best available estimate for the species to date. Furthermore, the cheetah has been driven out of 91% of its historic range.
- Southern Africa has about 4,190 cheetahs with the largest subpopulation of 3,940 cheetahs in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, SW Zambia and SW Mozambique.
- There are about 1,326 cheetahs in South Africa and Zimbabwe has only about 165 cheetahs left.
- According to The 2016 Red List of Mammals of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, the South African population of free-roaming animals is estimated at between 400–800 individuals.
- Within the large protected areas of the Kruger National Park, the population size is estimated at 412 individuals and within the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, 80 individuals.
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, has been listed as Endangered in the National Red Data book (2004) for more than 20 years. 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 6,600 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.