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Historical International Translocation: Cheetah from Canadian Snow to Zimbabwean

WeWild Africa, in collaboration with Imire Rhino and Wildlife Conservation, has successfully introduced two cheetahs from Canada, Kumbe and Jabari, into the wilds of Zimbabwe. This initiative marks a significant step in the country’s efforts to revive its dwindling cheetah population.

The History of Zimbabwe: Economic and Political Turmoil and Its Impact on Wildlife

After gaining independence in 1980, Zimbabwe, under the leadership of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe, who later became President, initially saw a period of prosperity and growth. However, by the late 1990s, with the leader desiring more power, the country began experiencing significant economic challenges. Land reform policies, particularly the forceful seizure of land from white farm owners starting in 2000, led to a sharp decline in agricultural production, a mainstay of the Zimbabwean economy.

The early 2000s were marked by hyperinflation, one of the worst in the history of the world, reaching a staggering 79.6 billion percent in mid-November 2008. The Zimbabwean dollar became practically worthless, leading to widespread poverty and unemployment. 

Mugabe’s tenure, which lasted until 2017, was characterized by authoritarian rule and strained relations with many Western countries. Economic sanctions were imposed by the European Union and the United States in the early 2000s, citing concerns over human rights and election fraud. These sanctions further exacerbated the economic situation.

The economic decline had a direct impact on Zimbabwe’s wildlife and biodiversity. With the collapse of formal working sectors, many turned to poaching as a means of survival. Iconic species like elephants and rhinos became prime targets, leading to a drastic reduction in their populations. Cheetah numbers in Zimbabwe declined between 75-90% during this time. Now, the economy has stabilized, and we are working on re-securing protected areas and re-stocking the historic populations for visitors to once again be able to enjoy. 

Rewilding Success

Kumbe and Jabari, two young cheetahs born at Quebec’s Parc Safari as part of a Pan-American cheetah breeding program, embarked on an extraordinary journey from Canada to Zimbabwe. Born to Cleo, who arrived at Parc Safari from the Toronto Zoo, these cheetahs are part of a successful breeding effort that contributes to global genetic diversity.

Their relocation journey was a stark transition from the freezing -23°C of Montreal to the warm 25°C of Zimbabwe. Upon arrival, they underwent a two-month quarantine period before their release into the reserve. This acclimatization was crucial, allowing them to shed their winter coats and adjust to the African climate.

Photo: Paul Chiasson / Canadian Press

In April, within just 24 hours of their release onto Imire’s 4,500-hectare reserve, the brothers made their first kills, a waterbuck and a blesbok, showcasing their natural predatory instincts. The reserve provided an ideal environment for Kumbe and Jabari to thrive as self-sufficient predators, hunting successfully without needing supplementary feeding. Their immediate ability to hunt and thrive in a new ecosystem is another demonstration of the captive-to-wild success stories.

These brothers are trailblazers in many ways. They are the first cheetahs to be translocated from Canada for rewilding and the first captive cheetahs to be rewilded in Zimbabwe. Their journey from Toronto to Harare involved traveling in special crates aboard an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, marking a significant logistical endeavor.

The Zimbabwe Government has supported this project, which is part of a broader plan to enhance the local cheetah population. This project is also part of a broader conservation and economic strategy. By enhancing the genetic diversity of cheetahs in Zimbabwe, it contributes to the overall goal of restoring the cheetah population. Moreover, the initiative is expected to boost eco-tourism, thereby supporting the national economy.

Parc Safari, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020, has been a key contributor to cheetah conservation. Since its establishment on July 15, 1972, it has welcomed over 13 million visitors. With a mission to protect endangered wildlife and provide a unique family experience, Parc Safari houses over 500 animals from various continents. 

Dereck Milburn, co-founder of WeWild Africa stated: “It’s very rewarding for our team and the Imire rangers to see Kumbe and Jabari adapting exceptionally well to their new wild home. They are displaying great natural instinct and behavior, such as dragging their prey to hide it from scavengers and patrolling and marking their territory established in the east of the reserve. They are vigilant and alert of their environment and are also learning some important life lessons when challenged and chased away by some of the larger species.”

Imire: Community-Based Conservation

Zimbabwean stakeholders and members of local communities were invited to witness and learn about cheetahs firsthand at Imire. For many locals, it was the first time they had ever seen cheetahs. Imire continues to provide guided visits to the local communities and schools. In fact, Imire has now facilitated more sightings of cheetahs than any other location in the country.

Imire’s rhino rehabilitation program is also led by members of the local community, who live next to the rhino and care for them everyday.

The significance of this approach lies in the understanding that for effective conservation, the local community needs to recognize and appreciate their heritage wildlife. Protecting wildlife like cheetahs becomes a far more attainable goal when the majority of the population has seen these animals, understands their importance, and feels a sense of connection and responsibility towards them.

Imire has also implemented innovative community-based economic strategies, including allowing cattle to graze within the reserve. This approach has provided a diversified source of revenue streams to the local community. This was particularly important during periods like the COVID-19 pandemic, when there was no eco-tourism revenue. Additionally, it has led to improved health for the wildlife, evidenced by a reduction in tick-borne diseases, which prefer to live on cattle, which are easier to treat than wildlife. 

WeWild Africa also works with Imire on an annual rhino collaring and tracking program. Read more about the story here.


How You Can Help

The work carried out by WeWild Africa is only possible with the support of individual donors like yourself. You can join us and help us to rescue wildlife, rewild animals, and restore landscapes. 


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