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

BC Ambulance Crews prepare to evacuate a sick Greenwood boy by helicopter on Friday, Feb. 26. Photo: Submitted
Greenwood boy taken to hospital by BC Ambulance helicopter

Greenwood volunteer firefighters helped prepare the chopper’s landing

City council was given a draft budget presentation at chambers on Wednesday, Feb. 24. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
City’s draft budget shows modest surplus, with slight property tax bump for 2021

The draft reflects the latest numbers in the on-going budget process

A dose of COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a vaccination clinic in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
39 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health region

The total number of cases in the region since the pandemic began is now at 7,334

Third-grader Hudson Adrian (left) on Wednesday, Feb. 24, poses with fourth-graders Josh Hlookoff (centre) and Jaylen Dekteroff at Hutton Elementary’s Pink Shirt Day parade. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
WATCH — Grand Forks’ elementaries support Pink Shirt Day

The annual celebration of kindness puts paid to the idea that bullying was ever cool

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires B.C. wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents bill to delay B.C.’s budget as late as April 30, and allow further spending before that, B.C. legislature, Dec. 8, 2020. (Hansard TV)
How big is B.C.’s COVID-19 deficit? We’ll find out April 20

More borrowing expected as pandemic enters second year

The first of 11 Dash 8 Q400 aircraft's have arrived in Abbotsford. Conair Group Inc. will soon transform them into firefighting airtankers. (Submitted)
Abbotsford’s Conair begins airtanker transformation

Aerial firefighting company creating Q400AT airtanker in advance of local forest fire season

Arrow Lakes Caribou Society said the new caribou pen near the Nakusp Hotsprings is close to completion. (Submitted)
Maternity caribou pen near Nakusp inches closer to fruition

While Nakusp recently approved the project’s lease, caribou captures are delayed due to COVID-19

The Canada Revenue Agency says there were 32 tax fraud convictions across the country between April 2019 and March 2020. (Pixabay)
Vancouver man sentenced to 29 months, fined $645K for tax evasion, forgery

Michael Sholz reportedly forged documents to support ineligible tax credits linked to homeownership

Then-Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson looks on as MLA Shirley Bond answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria. (Chad Hipolito / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. Liberal party to choose next leader in February 2022

Candidates have until Nov. 30 to declare whether they are running

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read