This cheetah bling will ensure these cats have nine lives
They might not look very fetching on a big feline, but these hi-tech gadgets are for their own safety
Two very speedy hunters are on the prowl in the uMkhuze game reserve in KwaZulu-Natal. But don’t get a fright if you are lucky enough to spot these magnificent felines.
Because, at first glance, the cheetahs appear to have an extra “tail” protruding above their shoulders, along with some very high-tech tracking equipment strapped around their necks.
Sadly, virtually round-the-clock surveillance appears to be the price that has to be paid for belonging to one of the most endangered predator species in Africa.
The brothers arrived in uMkhuze a few weeks ago from the nearby Thanda Private Game Reserve in Zululand and have been fitted with very expensive tracking collars so that wildlife researchers can follow their movements closely, for their own safety.The cheetah collars used in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, which provide monitors with regular satellite data uploads, cost in the region of R50,000 each.
Eduard Goosen, conservation manager for the uMkhuze-Ozabeni section of iSimangaliso, acknowledges that the collars make the cheetah look rather odd.
“We often get criticised for ‘burdening’ these poor creatures with this ungainly bling. However, they very quickly get used to the collars,” he said in response to queries about whether the collared animals were at greater risk of strangulation in thorny vegetation, or social isolation by other cheetah.“There are strict ethical guidelines and requirements (weight and size) for putting any collar on an animal, whether just a VHF, or, as in this case, a dual VHF and satellite collar.”
Goosen says the risks are minimal, unless the collars are fitted incorrectly; hence the decision that collars can only be fitted by professionals and veterinarians.
In fact, he said, collars had saved some animals from strangulation in wire snares, he said.
When wildlife monitors detect that a collared animal is no longer moving they are also able to intervene quickly to establish whether it has been snared or encountered other problems.Conservation staff at iSimangaliso say cheetah now have to be translocated on a regular basis, especially in smaller game reserves, as their habitat shrinks because of increasing pressure from human population and development across Africa.
“Cheetah numbers are dynamic in uMkhuze, with a current population of nine animals, of which four are female. It is hoped that these females will soon boost the population.
“Relocations in and out of the park are necessary to introduce new genetic strains and to minimise inbreeding, and the recent acquisition of two young male siblings has strengthened the uMkhuze gene pool.”
“Unfortunately, a cheetah’s worst enemy remains man, and as such the presence of collars and close observation can prove a lifesaver for these magnificent cats,” says iSimangaliso marketing manager Lindy Duffield.
Africa’s cheetahs have disappeared from nearly 90% of their historic range over the past century or so, and there are now just 6,500 wild cheetahs left across the continent.