A pair of cheetahs from the facility are settling in well after recently making the multi-day journey from Quebec’s Parc Safari to the Imire wildlife sanctuary in Zimbabwe. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

A pair of cheetahs from the facility are settling in well after recently making the multi-day journey from Quebec’s Parc Safari to the Imire wildlife sanctuary in Zimbabwe. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

‘Already starting to act like wild cheetahs’: Canadian-born pair to be released in Zimbabwe wilderness

A rare ‘rewilding’ project has conservationists hoping for the future of the cheetah species

A pair of Quebec-born cheetahs are adapting to life under the African sun in preparation to be released in a rare, international “rewilding” project that conservationists hope will help ensure the future of the species.

Big cat brothers Kumbe and Jabari are settling in well after recently making the multi-day journey from Quebec’s Parc Safari to the Imire wildlife sanctuary in Zimbabwe.

The siblings are spending 60 days in quarantine before they are released into a 4,500-hectare reserve, and are already starting to act like wild cheetahs — much to the joy of Nathalie Santerre, the zoological director at Parc Safari who helped raise them.

Santerre said within 24 hours of arrival, the cheetahs had already learned to find higher ground — a habit wild animals use to spot prey or danger — and had showed an interest in hunting.

“They’re very in tune with every little noise, every little movement,” Santerre said in a recent interview.

Kumbe and Jabari were born at Parc Safari in 2019 — conceived through a breeding partnership with the Toronto Zoo — and were chosen for the project based on their strength, size and genetics.

It’s hoped they will eventually sire cubs of their own and help restore Zimbabwe’s wild cheetah population, which has declined to fewer than 200 animals from around 1,500 in 1975.

Both Park Safari and Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums say they believe Kumbe and Jabari are the first Canadian-bred cheetahs to be released in Africa.

Santerre said Kumbe and Jabari were carefully raised in order to give them the best chance of thriving in the wild. They were kept within sight of their potential prey and fed animal carcasses to teach them how to tear into food.

While cats have a natural, strong hunting instinct — as anyone who’s seen a domestic pet stalk a mouse can attest — Kumbe and Jabari’s skills and endurance were developed by training them with lures.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the cheetahs will learn to feed themselves successfully in the wild, Santerre said. But so far, she added, “the boys” are exceeding every expectation — chasing small animals that venture into their enclosure and eyeing the larger prey animals they can see from a distance.

“You can see they’re keen to get out on those plains and just start running,” Santerre said.

The cheetahs will be equipped with GPS collars and monitored by rangers for the first year so they can ensure the animals are eating and finding water.

“Rewilding” is the process of reintroducing animals to an area where their species used to roam in the hope of re-establishing that population, according to a senior conservation biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

Carolyn Callaghan says the cheetahs’ journey from Quebec to Africa — the product of a partnership between Parc Safari, the Aspinall Foundation and Imire — is an example of the international effort that is increasingly needed to save vulnerable animals. The partnership also reflects the shifting role of zoos, she said, from displaying captive animals to helping repopulate endangered species.

In particular, she said zoo breeding programs play an important role in ensuring at-risk species maintain as much genetic diversity as possible to keep populations healthy.

“It remains one of (zoos’) mandates to connect people with these captive wild animals, but it has grown beyond that to this conservation genetics role and re-establishing population,” Callaghan said in a recent interview.

Species have also been successfully reintroduced in Canada, she said, including Vancouver Island marmots as well as bison and whooping cranes.

Callaghan notes, however, that captive breeding and reintroduction are an inferior solution to protecting animals and their habitats in the first place.

AnimalsConservationTrending Now

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

High winds Friday made perfect conditions for kite-surfers near the White Rock Pier. (Aaron Hinks photo)
PHOTOS: Kite-surfers take flight near White Rock Pier

Aerial performance put on near iconic waterfront attraction

B.C. researchers are asking for the public’s help in monitoring the bat population. (Cathy Koot photo)
Semiahmoo Peninsula residents asked to monitor bat activity

Researchers keeping eye on spread of white-nose syndrome

White Rock City Hall (Peace Arch News photo)
City of White Rock seeking input on draft financial plan

Plan includes tax rate increase of 4.28 per cent

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press)
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of Feb. 28

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

(Black Press - file photo)
WEATHER: Enjoy the sun today, prepare for a week of rain

Clouds and rain to arrive by evening, Environment Canada forecasts

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Alina Durham, mother of Shaelene Bell, lights candles on behalf of Bell’s two sons during a vigil on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO and PHOTOS: Candlelight vigil for missing Chilliwack woman sends message of hope

Small group of family, friends gathered to shine light for 23-year-old mother Shaelene Bell

Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Approximate location of the vehicle incident. (Google Maps)
Vehicle incident blocking Coquihalla traffic in both directions

Both directions of traffic stopped due to vehicle incident

Most Read