Kumbe and Jabari, two male cheetahs born in 2019 at Parc Safari, began their rewilding journey with the Imire Rhino and Wildlife Conservation organization and the Aspinall Foundation, a UK-based charity, over two years ago.
The brothers were initially transported from Hemmingford to the Imire reserve in January 2021. According to information on the Imire website, the relocation of the two cheetahs to their natural territory in Zimbabwe was a groundbreaking test to see if captive-born cheetahs could not only survive but thrive in a wild environment.
After two years on the Imire reserve, where the pair were able to hone their instinctive skills in a well-protected area free of competitor apex predators, the brothers were released into a larger conservancy in mid-September.
After a nine-hour trip, the cheetahs were released into a fenced quarantine “boma” or enclosure to help them acclimatize to their new environment. During their first night, the brothers escaped from the boma, and they have been successfully roaming free for the past two weeks. According to Imire, they have been able to hunt successfully as a coalition, find water sources using their own instinct, and have encountered a variety of competitor predators.
“Kumbe and Jabari’s journey from six generations in a zoo facility to wild and free in Zimbabwe is nothing short of incredible,” says Reilly Travers, the conservancy director at Imire. “I continue to be humbled by the natural world and the instincts which remain so deeply embedded within wildlife,” he continues, while noting the significance of cheetahs to the ecosystem.
“Watching the boys’ rewilding success has been a highlight of my career and of so many others in the conservation world,” says Travers.
The hope is that Kumbe and Jabari will soon integrate with the resident cheetahs and begin to contribute to the greater population in the reserve. Jean Pierre Ranger, the owner of Parc Safari, says that while he is happy the cheetahs are adapting well, “the big news will be when we learn of a new generation.”
The rewilding of the cheetahs corresponds with Parc Safari’s contribution to conservation efforts to save this species through the Species Survival Plan, a pan-American program to breed cheetahs in captivity. Parc Safari built the Cheetah’s Plain enclosure in 2013 and celebrated the arrival of eight felines. The first cheetah cubs to be born as part of the breeding program were presented to the public in 2017.
As one of only four zoos in Canada accredited to house cheetahs, Parc Safari welcomed Cleo from the Toronto Zoo to be part of the breeding program. In July 2019 she delivered four healthy cubs, including Kumbe and Jabari. Ranger says that as a result of the breeding program, Parc Safari has sent to other zoos cheetahs that have gone on to reproduce, adding to the genetic diversity of the worldwide population. “This is why we do this,” he says, of Parc Safari’s role in endangered species conservation.
Now, all eyes will be on the brothers as they continue to find their way in the wild, with high hopes riding on their ability to add to the native population in Zimbabwe.