Monday, April 6, 2009

Cheetah release

Last weekend I went to a game lodge north of Pretoria where I saw the usual range of animals (rhino, zebra, hippos, giraffes, warthogs, ten types of antelope, etc) - which begins to seem normal after a while. The most exciting moment was when the guests were invited to watch a cheetah release - these smaller lodges have to actively manage the balance of wildlife to make sure any particular species doesn't get out of hand - in this case they had too many wildebeest so needed a new predator- and they do a good deed by rehabilitating a large cat that's been injured, or raising a young one that's been abandoned by its mother (this is what they tell the guests, anyway; there's a suspiciously large number of these abandoned cats around; they probably kidnap them in Zimbabwe).

This cheetah had been living in a relatively small pen, being fed by the rangers - and it was now time to release her into the "wild" - where she would have to hunt for herself. She hadn't been fed for three days, so in theory should have been keen to get out into the reserve and bag an antelope steak or two. The only problem was that she didn't want to come through the gate, which was a sort of chain fence corridor - she was wary of human constructions, probably very wisely. The ranger's solution to this was to run in front of her dragging his coat along the ground, encouraging her to chase it, which she did several times, stopping at the gate. Each time the ranger approached her she'd snarl and spit and slap the ground and make feints at him - a terrifying sight even from the jeep ten metres away. In the end she came out of the pen - and then watched with interest as the ranger turned his back on her and fastened the gate. Us guests had our cameras ready, still expecting to see the cheetah having ranger burger for lunch - but in the end she wandered away (monitored closely by some nearby giraffes), sniffing the ground, locating, presumably, a supernumerary wildebeest.

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