Cheetah with broken leg

by Sam Davidson-Phillips

On the evening of the 28th March 2015 a report was received that one of Welgevonden’s adult female cheetah had a broken right back leg. This female together with her 4 cubs and an older juvenile male, that has linked up with the group, are by far the most visible and tourist friendly cheetah on the Reserve.

Jonathan Swart, Research Ecologist, was the first to assess the cheetah before it became dark and confirmed the animal had a clean break.

The decision was made to capture the animal for veterinary care. Due to the age of the cubs it was decided that the animals were not old enough to survive on their own and that they should be moved into a holding boma. The Reserves predator boma was not available due to it being occupied by 4 sub-adult male lion’s en-route to Kwazulu-Natal. Neighbouring Marataba Game Reserve under the management of Dr André Uys, agreed to hold the cubs in their predator boma’s until they could be re-united with their mother and later returned to Welgevonden. Late on Saturday night the necessary permissions and permits were arranged – thanks to the Nature Conservation officials for being so accommodating at this time on a Saturday night!

The Nature Conservation Students were assigned to watch the cheetah for the night to ensure they could easily be located the next morning and also to protect them from lions if possible.

Early the following morning the capture commenced with the adult female being the priority. She was darted and stabilised by Dr Pierre Bester who put a splint on the broken leg before she was loaded into a crate for the trip to Dr Peter Cauldwell in Pretoria, who is one of the foremost big cat specialists in South Africa particularly pertaining to cheetah.

The cubs were then given an impala carcass to keep them busy and distracted while they were all darted successfully by Dr Bester, which was great as cheetah are notoriously difficult to dart and work with. The animals were loaded in their sedated state into the canopied back of a double cab and a rapid trip to the Marataba holding boma’s was made successfully.

After operating on the adult female and inserting a number of pins, plates and screws she recovered very well only to get overactive and bend a pin, her leg requiring a further operation to replace the pin.

The female is still being held in Pretoria for a final operation which will take place between the 20th of May and the 3rd of June to remove a portion of the plate and a few screws. She will shortly thereafter be reunited with her cubs in the holding boma’s at Marataba. A further 4 to 6 weeks of recovery in the boma’s is expected before she and her 6 cubs will be returned to Welgevonden. On arrival back in Welgevonden, they will be held for a further week in the predator boma to reacclimatise and then will be released back into the reserve. The female will have to be collared for a period of minimum 3 months to ensure that she does not damage her leg again. Once this has been confirmed the collar will then be removed.