The cat that's got the genes: How Jasmin is helping save her species
A lack of genetic diversity is a major problem for cheetahs. And that's where this young lady's DNA comes in
As she tucks into a meal of fresh springbok, Jasmin the cheetah unleashes a thousand-yard stare into her endangered species’ future.
Jasmin’s kill – only the second since the captive-bred four-year-old experienced her first taste of the wild – means she is on course for survival at her new home in the Eastern Cape.
And if she thrives and reproduces, it will be a lifeline for Africa’s most endangered big cat, which has seen its population fall from 100,000 in 1900 to fewer than 7,000 today.
“This is a true win for conservation on numerous fronts,” said Chantal Rischard, co-founder of Ashia Cheetah Conservation, which bred Jasmin and relocated her to Kuzuko Lodge at the end of August.
Kuzuko general manager Gerhard de Lange said Jasmin represented “a huge step for conservation” because her success in the wild would diversify the gene pool in the reserve.
“Jasmin’s DNA doesn’t have the same structure as the cheetahs in the existing metapopulation, and indicates that she is in fact closely related to captive animals,” he said.
“Therefore, breeding her with existing wild males will create a diversified gene pool that can only benefit the cheetah metapopulation.”
After a month in a holding boma, Jasmin was released into a 300ha camp on September 27. “That very afternoon she was seen chasing impala and we were surprised by her speed, especially considering she has been raised in captivity,” said De Lange.
“During the next couple of days she was regularly seen chasing springbok, steenbok and meerkats. She made her first springbok kill on Friday October 5.”
This kill was not photographed, but De Lange tracked her radio collar on Monday and found her with another springbok kill.
“I rushed back to the vehicle to collect camera equipment to photograph and film this milestone. We also had a number of foreign tourists out on the game drive with us that afternoon ... who experienced this incredible feat of Mother Nature,” he said.
Once Jasmin has built up her strength in the wild she will join two males roaming Kuzuko’s 15,000ha next to Addo Elephant National Park.
Rischard said more captive-born cheetahs from Ashia will be released into game reserves around the country, several of which are in the process of applying for cheetah permits.
“The relatedness of the reserve populations has become an issue, and preventing inbreeding without supplementation from outside populations will be practically impossible,” she said.
“Given the limited numbers in the wild, the release of captive-born cheetahs from scientific breeding programmes with strict DNA testing and accurate records on origin and parentage is a promising way to respond to the urgent need of reintroducing new genetic lines to strengthen the wild populations.”