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

Just Posted

Grade 12 graduates Jada Touchie, Timothy Masso and Brendan Brown are all smiles after receiving their Goodies for the Grads gift packs thanks to a small neighbourhood grant from the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Ucluelet Secondary School grads set to parade through town

Family and friends can cheer on the Class of 2021 this Saturday, June 19 at 4:30 p.m.

From left, Ahousaht First Nation Hereditary Chief Richard George presents a $10,000 cheque to Tofino Hatchery manager Doug Palfrey alongside Tyler Huebner of TCH Contracting The funds will go towards rebuilding Cypre river Chinook. (Carallyn Bowes photo)
Tofino Hatchery receives $10K donation

Tofino Salmon Enhancement Society tackling massive drop in Chinook salmon stocks

Creative handmade signs abound at the June 13 Tofino rally for old growth trees. (Nora O’Malley photo)
VIDEO: Tofino stands in solidarity for Fairy Creek Blockades

Over 150 supporters attend rally hosted by Friends of Clayoquot Sound

This rendering shows the potential layout for a 40-unit staff housing cooperative being proposed by the Pac Rim Home Development Cooperative in Ucluelet. (Image from www.prhdc.ca)
Pac Rim Cooperative pitches staff housing project in Ucluelet

“We’re looking at it as if it’s like a resort for employees”

A shot from within Leah McDiarmid’s new gallery shows a sneak peak at June 13’s opening exhibit. (Leah McDiarmid photo)
New gallery promises engaging experience in Tofino

Tofino Gallery of Contemporary Art unveils inaugural exhibit on June 13

Maxwell Johnson is seen in Bella Bella, B.C., in an undated photo. The Indigenous man from British Columbia has filed complaints with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk Nation, Damien Gillis, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
VIDEO: Chiefs join human rights case of Indigenous man handcuffed by police in B.C. bank

Maxwell Johnson said he wants change, not just words, from Vancouver police

Members of the Department of National Defence are on their way to North Vancouver after a local homeowner expressed his worry about a military artifact he recently purchased. (DNV Fire and Rescue)
Military called in to deal with antique ‘shell’ at North Vancouver home

‘The person somehow purchased a bombshell innocently believing it was an out-of-commission military artifact,’ said Sgt. Peter DeVries

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz have set their wedding date for February, hoping that more COVID-19 restrictions will have lifted. (The Macleans)
B.C. couples ‘gambling’ on whether COVID rules will let them dance at their wedding

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz pushed back their wedding in hopes of being able to celebrate it without the constraints of COVID-19

A plane is silhouetted as it takes off from Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., May 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Report calls for airlines to refund passengers for flights halted due to COVID-19

Conclusion: federal help should be on the condition airlines immediately refund Canadian travellers

Green party Leader Annamie Paul speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Paul has survived another day of party strife after a planned ouster shifted course, leaving her with a tenuous grip on power ahead of a likely federal election this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Green Leader Annamie Paul blasts ‘racist,’ ‘sexist’ party execs who sought ouster

Fallout has continued, with two of the federal council’s members resigning

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says re-opening B.C.’s border to the U.S. ‘is not in our best interest’ right now. (B.C. Government photo)
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry (B.C. Government photo)
B.C. records 113 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, four deaths

Vaccination of young people rising quickly, near 75 per cent

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and U.S President Joe Biden shake hands during their meeting at the ‘Villa la Grange’ in Geneva, Switzerland in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)
Biden says meeting with Putin not a ‘kumbaya moment’

But U.S. president asserted Russian leader is interested in improved relations, averting a Cold War

Marine biologist Rick Harbo pulls a lid from the Ladysmith harbour, which he uses to monitor the presence of native and non-native species in the Ladysmith harbour. (Cole Schisler photo)
Unidentified sponge may be the latest marine species invading Island harbour

Marine biologist finding dozens of alien species in warm-water Ladysmith Harbour, none threatening

Island Health is bringing a vaccination clinic to Lake Cowichan starting June 23. (Submitted)
Island Health opening COVID-19 vaccine clinic to boost lagging Cowichan Lake numbers

Cowichan Valley West the only Island area under 60 per cent in adult first dose totals

Most Read