Tigers are not the only attraction at the Tiger Canyon Private Game Reserve near Philippolis in the Free State. With the birth of four wild cheetah cubs in April, guests have had an even more fulfilling experience during their time at the reserve.
While the reserve is known for its wild tigers, it is also home to four cheetah, the first wild cheetah to be brought into the Free State after an absence of about 100 years. Although the two males were born in captivity, they now enjoy their freedom at Tiger Canyon. The two females were wild raised by their mother prior to arriving at the reserve in 2013, but have since habituated to tourists.
Chantelle de Bruin, Tiger Canyon lodge manager and head ranger, says it was extremely rewarding to be the first person to see Shashe’s cubs. She has built a relationship with the reserve’s cheetah over a long period, and the new mother led De Bruin to her den one evening in April.
De Bruin’s relationship with Shashe now allows her to take guests to experience exceptional mother and cub interactions. “We respect her space and usually pick a spot to sit nearby and watch the cubs as they play and chase each other,” she explains. De Bruin says the guests have thoroughly enjoyed the human/big cat experience.
The new litter of cubs is important as they will be able to contribute towards the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) Cheetah Meta-population Project once they are old enough. The aim of the project is to relocate cheetah between different fenced reserves to assist with the genetic dispersal of their genes.
The tigers and cheetah do not live in the same area at Tiger Canyon. The cheetah live in a 1 000ha area with plenty of free-roaming plains game. De Bruin says the new mother is looking after her cubs well. “She is a strong hunter and catches something once or twice a week for the cubs.”
This is Shashe’s second litter of cubs. The first was a litter of five born in late 2014, and all were successfully relocated to other South African reserves through the work done by the EWT. De Bruin says it is still too early to determine whether the Tiger Canyon cubs are male or female.
Tiger Canyon is an ex-situ conservation project supporting a healthy number of wild tigers. Apart from tigers and cheetah, the reserve also supports serval, caracal, black-footed cat, African wild cat, black-backed jackal, bat-eared fox, Cape fox, aardwolf and aardvark, all of which roam free with the big cats.
Written by René de Klerk
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