Faculty veterinarians assist CoT with Rietvlei cheetah capture for relocation

Posted on July 05, 2023

Sometimes the role veterinarians play during a wildlife capture and relocation operation is underestimated. Without them it will not really be possible.
Wildlife veterinarians Dr Jacques O'Dell and Dr Bart Gazendam and students of the University of Pretoria's Faculty of Veterinary Science recently assisted the City of Tshwane (CoT) with the capture and relocation of five cheetahs residing in the Rietvlei Nature Reserve. It formed part of the Cheetah Metapopulation Project and was done in association with the Aspinall Foundation as well as Dr Peter Caldwell from the Old Chapel Veterinary Clinic in Pretoria.
The City of Tshwane captured the coalition of cheetah at Rietvlei Nature Reserve in order to relocate them. Njozi, the cheetah that gave birth to these five cubs, was relocated from Garden Route Game Lodge to Rietvlei Nature Reserve two years ago. She has remarkably reared her first litter, comprising of four male cubs and one female, to an independent age by changing carefully selected den sites every few days.
According to Dr O'Dell, specialist wildlife veterinarian, the plan was that they chemically dart as many of the cheetahs as possible on the ground and if needed, the rest by Dr Caldwell from the air. However, on the morning of the undertaking the cheetahs were quite deep in the Vlei and the veterinarians could not even see them. Dr Caldwell managed to dart the cheetahs from the helicopter and within 10 minutes all five were chemically immobilised.
"The whole operation went so smoothly that we managed to load all four male cheetahs in crates within an hour and released the young female back into Rietvlei," Dr O'Dell said. He added that the search for the cats was made easier because about three weeks ago Dr Gazendam succeeded in darting the mother and he fitted her with a VHF collar which obviously made tracking quite easy.
Dr Bart Gazendam (kneeling down) draws blood from a cheetah for a DNA sample and evaluation. This is done on every cheetah that is relocated.
The Metapopulation Initiative has moved the four male offspring to reserves in Limpopo (Tshukudu) and the Eastern Cape (Njozi) to prevent potential inbreeding with their mother and between the siblings. They also want to mitigate unsustainable levels of cheetah predation on the remaining prey species at Rietvlei Nature Reserve. It is crucial that measures are taken to prevent overpopulation of the cheetah species at the nature reserve.
The young female sibling has been released and she will remain at Rietvlei Nature Reserve for a considerable period so she can be taken care of by the mother for better growth, and will then be moved to another nature reserve outside the city.
A breeding population (both sexes) for Rietvlei Nature Reserve was only introduced in June 2014. Cheetahs have performed exceptionally well on Rietvlei since then, with exactly 13 surplus wild cheetahs made available for cheetah range expansion efforts in other areas in South Africa and further afield on the continent.
One of the Rietvlei Nature Reserve's game rangers, Jeanri Weideman (left) and an assistant do a first check on one of the cheetahs while the cheetahs are moved from the vlei to an area better suited for working with them.
The Cheetah Metapopulation Project is a coordinated effort between the City and the Metapopulation Initiative that entails the management of approximately 467 cheetahs on 61 reserves in Southern Africa and India. The project is supported by several stakeholders ranging from government conservation authorities, researchers, national parks, provincial conservation areas and private reserves.
The principal goal of the project is to maintain the genetic and demographic integrity of the cheetah metapopulation and to increase the resident range of wild cheetahs across their historical distribution range.
After the removal of the sub-adults, efforts will be made to supplement the Rietvlei Nature Reserve blesbok population to ensure that a male cheetah can be brought in to join Njozi at Rietvlei Nature Reserve. This will ensure that Rietvlei Nature Reserve can continue with wild cheetah conservation efforts in Southern Africa
- Author CvB

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