With a spot of luck, Parc Safari-born cats will help Zimbabwe's cheetah population grow

Two cheetahs who once lived at Quebec's Parc Safari are now able to bless the rains down in Africa.

The spotted brothers, Kumbe and Jabari, were born in the Hemmingford zoo in 2019 and recently made their way to Imire, a protected wildlife area of Zimbabwe, to be reintroduced to their natural habitat.

Zoo director Nathalie Santerre said the brothers are already displaying instincts that will serve them well in the wild.

“Right away, we saw perfect behaviours (like) the stalking of prey,” she said.

To prepare them for their new home, Parc Safari staff helped the cubs hone their skills with lures and hunting games.

“They were chosen for their gene pool to bring diversity to the wild population,” said Santerre. “It's not just about those two boys, it's really about the big picture. Zimbabwe and the cheetah population are really struggling and it's very important to bring that gene pool and inject it into the wild population.”

Kumbe and Jabari are the first cheetahs to ever be re-wilded to Africa from Canada. Preparation for the move took over a year and was done in collaboration with United Kingdom-based charity The Aspinall Foundation.

“Parc Safari did a fantastic job with these two animals. They are phenomenal, such healthy boys,” said foundation spokesperson Dereck Milburn. “What that meant was, we did a lot of disease tests for these boys and they call came back completely healthy.”

The siblings are currently spending 60 days in a one-hectare quarantine area, where they have already lost their winter coats and are being given opportunities to hunt.

“It's so amazing to see the natural instincts kick in,” said Milburn. “They'll stand on the rock in their holding and look out into the plains and that's what wild cheetahs do; they get elevated to see their prey.”

Once they're released into the reserve itself, Kumbe and Jabari will be monitored from a distance. Violaine Garant, a Parc Safari veterinary technician who helped prepare the brothers for their new habitat, said they could be thriving as if born in the wild in as little as six months.

“The best case scenario is that in six months to a year, they will become wild, chasing on their own, killing prey on their own,” she said. “Maybe in a year or two, when a female will be introduced, maybe they'll produce babies and... everybody will be so happy.”

Parc Safari will be publishing updates on Kumbe and Jabari's progress. The rest of their cheetah family – mother Cleo and sisters Asani and Dalia – remain in Hemmingford.  

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