Without the movement and noise of safari goers over the last few months, the animals of the Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve have been spending more time in Garonga Safari Camp. The camp structures may well have provided some refuge from the cold of winter, and, for prey species, there is the additional possibility that human activity could deter certain predators. For the herd of impala that had taken up residence in the camp, these hopes were to be dashed by a particular spotted feline named Patsy.
Patsy was just two years old when she was released into the reserve in 2018. Her hunting skills were still a work in progress at that age and without having mastered the necessary stranglehold, the prey she did manage to bring down often broke free and bolted away. Unfortunately for her, this regularly resulted in wasted energy and an empty stomach.
Even for mature adult cheetahs, the number of hunting attempts that result in successful kills is estimated to be between 40-50%. As a result, it is rare to be in the right place at the right time to witness a successful kill. So, you can imagine the excitement of the Garonga guides as they watched Patsy not only effectively demonstrate her maturing hunting skills, but do so right on their doorstep, between the camp tents.
Makalali’s cheetah population
Patsy currently shares the Greater Makalali Private Nature Reserve with five other cheetahs – two single roaming adult males, and an older adult female and her two sub-adult cubs (a male and a female). Makalali is based in the savanna biome and has a variety of habitats within its borders, including the wide-open clearings, of which the largest is the xinkankanka clearings (Xitsonga for ‘cheetah clearings’), along with thick riverine and savanna woodland.
The cheetahs have adapted very well to living within the reserve and have been known to use the border fencing to aid them in their hunting efforts. Due to the success of the current cheetah population and the size of the Makalali, there is talk of introducing two more cheetahs in the future to diversify the gene pool of the cheetah population within the reserve.
Cheetah reintroduction led by Garonga
Garonga is more than just a lodge in a Big 5 reserve. The process of introducing the first cheetah into the reserve was driven and funded by Garonga owner, Bernie Smith. When the reserve asked him to name the cheetah, he took the opportunity to honor his late grandmother, Patsy. Garonga contributes to the anti-poaching activities throughout the reserve and funds from guests’ stays ensure that the land around the lodge is dedicated to the wildlife that has historically called it home. When Garonga’s safari team is not busy with guests, they are tasked with bush clearing and road maintenance tasks to minimize the impact of game drives on the reserve.
Garonga hosts children from local schools to give them the opportunity –which is often their first – to experience their natural heritage and to inspire them to care for and protect their wildlife. By providing an internship to a graduate of the Wild Shots Outreach Program, Garonga helps to grow the interconnected community and conservation efforts within South Africa’s tourism industry. It also supports a local charity, Rhino Revolution, with their work in the field and one of Garonga’s guides doubles as a Wild Pangolin Monitor and a Pangolin Monitoring Project Coordinator.
The importance of cheetah conservation
According to the IUCN, there are currently approximately only 6,700 mature cheetahs in the wilderness across the world, and they are listed as Endangered with Extinction on the Red List of Threatened Species. Best estimates are that cheetahs have disappeared from up to 90% of their historic range in Africa. As the continent’s wild spaces continue to dwindle, there are significant challenges facing cheetahs: habitat loss, a lack of genetic diversity, human-wildlife conflict, the illegal trafficking of cheetah parts and the exotic pet trade, as well as competition with other predators.
That is why the survival of every individual cheetah like Patsy is hugely important for the future of the species. Through Patsy, the other cheetahs of Makalali and those still to come, there is real hope to secure the future of this spectacular big cat species. Just knowing this made watching her successfully take down the impala even more special for the guides of Garonga.