Africa: When Namibian cheetahs will meet cheetahs from South Africa at Kuno this week, will sparks fly? | India News

BHOPAL: One of the big questions on the minds of conservationists and the public is how Namibian and South African cheetahs get along once they are all released into Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. Will they like each other? Will they fight? More importantly, will they mate?
According to Vincent van der Merwe, a South African conservation biologist coordinating the translocation of 12 cheetahs to India this week, chances for love in the unfenced spaces of Kuno are high.
“Cheetahs are quite promiscuous,” the 40-year-old National Geographic Explorer told As It Happens host Carol Off. “They really are not fussy at all when it comes to choosing partners.”
This means Namibian male cheetah Elton, Freddie and Oban will have five new potential mates. Sasha, Savannah, Siyaya, Tblisi and Aasha might find love with K1, K3, K4, K7, K8, K9 or K11, the South African male cheetahs known by identifying numbers.
Van der Merwe thinks the Namibian and South African cats will hit it off after release. In captive conditions, cheetahs can be very selective about their mates. But in wild places like Kuno, van der Merwe observes they may not be as picky.
“We can introduce a male and a female cheetah on the same reserve in South Africa, and they will almost always breed. The only issue might be aggression if the male cheetahs get competitive with one another over females.”
Part of Van der Merwe’s job as manager of South Africa’s Cheetah Metapopulation Project is to move cheetahs between 68 reserves and national parks across southern Africa for mating purposes. To aid in identifying best prospective pairings, he maintains a cheetah studbook listing demographic and health information for all the cats in the country.
In remote places where the best mating options around are brothers, sisters and cousins, van der Merwe swoops in and plays Cupid. Healthy cheetahs from distant populations are likely to produce stronger cubs with less disease. These matchmaking efforts are credited with raising the region’s population to 468 cheetahs from a declining population of 217 over the past 10 years.
Anyone who has moved to a new country can tell you finding a mate can be a challenge. This is why Van der Merwe’s expertise is now being tapped as wingman to aid PM Modi’s favorite big cats in their transcontinental move to Madhya Pradesh.
The dozen cheetahs arriving on February 18 – seven males and five females – are from different genetic backgrounds. They were chosen to prevent potential for inbreeding and to help establish a genetically diverse population in India. The same goes for the eight cheetahs that came September 17 from Namibia.
Given the two groups of cheetahs are the same subspecies, and India’s habitat structure is similar to southern Africa’s, van der Merwe thinks they will exhibit the same mating behaviors once released at Kuno. Males and females will mix and mingle. About 95 days later, cubs will be born.
Unlike house cats, female cheetahs do not make it obvious when they are ready to mate. But they are often the one making the first move, signaling to the males to indicate interest, says the young conservationist.
“Sometimes they are even the aggressor.”
Van der Merwe says that while female cheetahs lead solitary lives, raising litters of cubs on their own, when it comes to sex, females are very open-minded about potential mates. They are also breeding machines. After two years of age, they are single-minded in their pursuit of male companions for procreation. Their adult lives are spent in a perpetual cycle of breeding and raising cubs.
The female cheetah’s sex drive is so strong, genetic testing has revealed it is possible for two or more fathers to be identified with one litter of cubs.
These instincts are necessary for their survival.
In Africa, lions, leopards, hyena and wild dogs threaten cheetahs and their cubs. Half of cheetah deaths are caused by these three predators. In India, the spotted cats will face some of the same natural predators, and possibly even some new ones, like the tiger, sloth bear, wolf and dhole dog. Reproducing constantly is the way the species can persist.
“The species’ ability to survive in this environment where everything just wants to munch them is quite remarkable. I have always been interested in cheetahs, mainly because I have always had a soft spot for the underdog,” van der Merwe said.
“Establishing the cheetah population in India will require major technical support for the animals for at least the next 10 years. This is a challenge, a lot of exciting work ahead, but it’s the kind that makes my heart feel good.”

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