Cabela Family Foundation second historic conservation effort transplants cheetahs to Mozambique to balance 2 M acre ecosystem

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Cabela Family Foundation second historic conservation effort transplants cheetahs to Mozambique to balance 2 M acre ecosystem
Cabela Family Foundation second historic conservation effort transplants cheetahs to Mozambique to balance 2 M acre ecosystem

Africa-PressMozambique. The Cabela Family Foundation, along with wildlife experts, has released wild cheetahs into the Zambeze Delta of Mozambique, the second largest conservation transport of wild cheetahs across an international boundary in history.

“By reintroducing cheetahs to Coutada 11, we have potentially expanded the wild cheetah range by 30%.” -Dan Cabela

The effort, which comes approximately three years after the successful transplant and release of 24 lions in the Zambeze Delta, is the culmination of two years of research and work to restore a species to an ecosystem that it had previously not been found in for over 50 to 100 years. The objective of “Twelve Cheetahs” and “Twenty Four Lions” is to completely restore the natural ecosystem.

“In the past century, the wild cheetah population declined from approximately 100,000 individuals to just around 6,700 globally and zero in the Zambeze Delta,” Dan Cabela, director of Twelve Cheetahs and executive director of the Cabela Family Foundation, said. “By reintroducing cheetahs to Coutada 11, we have potentially expanded the wild cheetah range by 30%. When you can reintroduce a species to an intact and vast ecosystem while also expanding the potential range of that species, it positively impacts wildlife conservation.”

On August 27, a coalition of partners, including the Cabela Family Foundation (CFF), Ivan Carter Wildlife Alliance (ICWA), Zambeze Delta Conservation (ZDC), Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and National Administration for Conservation Areas (ANAC) deployed a strategic, staggered effort to release the first six cheetahs into a remote region of a 4,500-square kilometer Zambeze Delta area of Mozambique called Coutada 11. Three more cheetahs were released on August 28, and the remaining two cheetahs on August 29. Four females and seven males were released in total. One cheetah died in Mawali prior to the transplant and release.

Willem Briers-Louw, scientist and a member of the Twelve Cheetahs team, estimates that this project will increase the number of cheetahs to as many as 100 within 15 years. There are tracking collars on all of the cheetahs, which allow for close monitoring with a GPS and VHF tracking device by a group of on-the-ground zoologists, wildlife experts and conservations, including Briers-Louw and Mark Haldane, owner of Zambeze Delta Safaris, among others. A helicopter is monitoring the cheetah population, and can rapidly respond in case of a poaching emergency, injury, birth, etc.

Since the release, all cheetahs remained in their original groups, which include two sibling groups, two single females and one male coalition, which consists of two males. All groups have remained within the pan network, which is a grassland area surrounded by forest. The pans have game the cheetahs will hunt for food, including reedbuck, warthog and nyala. The zoology experts on the ground confirm all cheetahs have made their own kills for food. The zoologists have conducted daily visual sightings of the cheetahs and report they are in great condition.

The cheetahs are genetically diverse and from various game reserves in South Africa and Malawi. After being transported to Coutada 11, the cheetahs were placed in a boma so they could de-stress and acclimate to the new environment in a process called a “soft release.” With the final release and transplant successfully completed, the entire team is confident that the ongoing research and follow-up combined with anti-poaching efforts will see these animals thrive. The Cabela Family Foundation has committed to funding research through at least 2022.

“Preserving our planet’s natural wildlife and their environments through conservation is incredibly meaningful to my entire family and especially my late husband, Dick Cabela,” Mary Cabela, founder of the Cabela Family Foundation, said. “To see how well the lions flourished, reproduced and settled into an area once completely void of the species, gives me hope and excitement about reintroducing the cheetahs back to this very special place.” Mary, Dan and members of the family traveled to Mozambique to oversee the move.

Cheetahs are listed as Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. It is the only large carnivore that historically occurred in the landscape not currently present in the area. Therefore, this move completes the African large carnivore guild that naturally occurs in the area, which is important as only 8% of carnivore guilds in Africa are thought to be intact—adding substantial conservation value to the species and to the ecosystem.

Research has shown that primary or ‘apex’ predators such as cheetahs have been dramatically reduced and completely eliminated in approximately 30 countries. In Africa particularly, as the human population and illegal poaching increased, cheetahs’ suffered habitat loss, which resulted in the large-scale depletion of the species from its former range in the country.

Mozambique’s wildlife has largely returned to the Zambeze Delta following civil war and thanks to sound conservation practices and 30 years of dedicated anti-poaching efforts, especially since the Twenty Four Lions effort began in 2018.

“Since 2018, our anti-poaching unit (APU) has become more effective by using the integration of the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART), a system that enables the collection, storage, communication and evaluation of data,” Haldane said. “Information about poaching activity is immediately relayed to the research team, who will ensure the animals are not caught in snares or traps. If an animal is trapped, the area is patrolled, and all snares and traps will be removed.”

Prior to the release, the research team spent time to ensure the local community was prepared for the cheetah reintroduction. Chief Thozo, the local chief of Coutada 11, conducted a ceremony where he gave his blessing for the cheetahs. Children from local schools and community members were invited to visit them in the boma, where the researchers explained that cheetahs are not a threat to people, especially since livestock is not kept in the village.

“Greater wildlife conservation success in this particular area will directly benefit the local communities through tourism,” Dan Cabela said. “This is why the relationship between those involved with the Zambeze Delta Conservation efforts and the communities they support is so strong.”

The lions released in the 2018 effort have since tripled their population numbers. While lions hunt cheetahs, the cheetah boma was constructed far from the lion range and the selected cheetahs have coexisted with lions before, so they have spatial and temporal avoidance skills. Given the size of the area and the low density of the lion population, there is sufficient space to coexist, as well as an abundance of smaller-bodied prey the cheetahs will hunt for food.

“There is no guarantee that the lions and cheetahs will avoid conflict, but we are hopeful that the presence of both will drive this environment closer to its original state,” Dan Cabela said. “Many species of hoofed mammals have flourished to the incredible numbers the delta holds today. The ecosystem is thriving more than ever, which is why the reintroduction of the cheetahs as an additional apex predator makes sense.”

The Cabela Family Foundation, along with its partners, is encouraging people to not only follow along with the progress of the cheetahs and the lions, but to also support anti-poaching efforts specific to Mozambique. More information—including research and videos, as well as a link to donate—can be found at @CabelaFamilyFoundation on social media.

For images and video of the release, please click here. Please photo credit Cabela Family Foundation.

About The Cabela Family Foundation

The Cabela Family Foundation supports long-term, high-impact partnerships that fulfill the foundation’s mission to create projects that promote conservation, access to wild spaces and charity toward others. The foundation continues the legacy of Dick and Mary Cabela, who founded the outdoor retailer Cabela’s in 1961. With a focus on their deep love of the outdoors, the family grew the company to more than 82 stores nationwide before selling the company in 2016. www.cabelafamilyfoundation.org

About the Ivan Carter Wildlife Alliance

This non-profit conservation organization develops and implements holistic wildlife conservation solutions with, and involving, indigenous communities. It provides financial, material and tactical support to counter-poaching groups and actively works to increase the awareness and acceptance of the value of maintaining diverse wildlife populations. No less than 90% of all donations reach the specific destination for which they are intended. www.ivancarterwca.org

About Zambeze Delta Safaris/Conservation and Anti-poaching effort

Zambeze Delta Safaris has been operating in Mozambique for almost three decades. The operation is based on sustainable game utilization through a long-term lease with the government. The organization prides itself on sound management and anti-poaching practices, which have assisted in making its areas of operation some of the finest free-roaming game lands in Africa today. www.zambezedeltasafaris.com

About the Endangered Wildlife Trust

Founded in 1973, the Endangered Wildlife Trust is driven by a team of passionate and dedicated conservationists working through 13 specialised programmes across southern and East Africa, each falling under one of their three key strategic pillars: Saving species, conserving habitats and benefiting people. Protecting forever, together. www.ewt.org.za

About the National Administration for Conservation Areas

Established in 2011, this state institution partners with local organizations and communities to promote the conservation of biodiversity, the importance of natural resources and the development of ecotourism. The conservation areas represent around 25% of the nation’s territory, including seven national parks, seven national reserves, 70 game hunting areas divided in 20 official game reserves, nine hunting blocks, 13 community projects and 31 game farms. www.anac.gov.mz/en/anac/

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