The recent introduction of cheetahs to Lapalala is one of the crowning jewels in the reserve’s restoration story; and now there are four beautiful cats roaming the plains of the vast Palala River valley.
Cheetahs have long been missing from Lapalala. The cats were probably hunted out of the area when farmers first arrived in the waterberg with their livestock over 50 years ago. Having these iconic cats return to the savannah was a historical moment; and it’s such a pleasure seeing them during game drives.
The cheetahs have divided themselves into two coalitions; residing in the northern and southern part of the reserve. Cheetah coalitions are important because they increase the chances of survival for the animals; making it easier to hunt and kill prey and defend themselves from other predators. Cheetahs are one of the lowest cats in the predator hierarchy, and so they have a lot of competition from predators like hyenas, lions, leopards. Having a ‘brother’ to watch your back is not such a bad idea.
We have been fortunate to see two of the brothers around Tintswalo lodge, and they often appear at the waterhole in front of the deck. On one occasion, the cheetahs chased an impala right past us. And on another morning, we watched one of the males eating a kudu while we were enjoying a bush breakfast. They were also brave enough to hunt a sub adult wildebeest, which managed to impress all the guests that were lucky enough to view them feeding.
The other two brothers seem to be residing in the northern part of the reserve. They are very relaxed, and often to sit by the vehicle. It’s always exciting because we never know if they are going to jump up and chase something while we are right there (which has happened before!)
All the cheetahs are growing accustomed to the landscape and the guests, and they have started to mark their territories, which is a great sign. It shows their intent of making Lapalala their home and settling in. This is all part of the re-introduction process. These cheetahs are wild animals, and it’s not simply a case of letting them loose and hoping for the best. They have to accept their new home, and hopefully thrive into the future.