02 May Welgevonden Cheetahs break into Marakele National Park
By Phillipa Myram (Assistant Research and Volunteer Coordinator), Greg Canning (Research and Volunteer Coordinator) and Sam Davidson-Phillips (Conservation Officer).
On Sunday May 8 the Welgevonden Conservation Officer, Sam Davidson-Phillips, received a report that two male cheetah were on the Marakele National Park side of the fence with one cheetah on the Welgevonden Game Reserve side of the fence on the south-western boundary fence line between the reserves.
Shortly thereafter the male on the Welgevonden side proceeded to chase a young eland into the fence. The eland got entangled in the fence while the cheetah went flying through the fence ending up on the Marakele side of the fence! The two cheetah then started feeding on the carcass while the other cheetah disappeared. The two cheetah feeding on the carcass were identified as the Madikwe males, which had been introduced into WGR a few months earlier as part of the EWT’s Cheetah Metapopulation Programme. This was confirmed using the cheetah identification kit for Welgevonden. The situation required a quick solution, and after conversing with Marakele NP management, permission was granted to cut the fence in an attempt to return the two brothers to Welgevonden.
In order to lure the animals across, the eland carcass was pulled back into Welgevonden, with the two cats in tow! This was a great success and once the carcass and animals were a safe distance from the fence the reserves fencing team repaired the fence.
Although elated with the easy return of the cheetah to WGR it was noticed that one of the brothers was very thin, moving with apparent pain, not eating and had dried blood on his legs and tail. A veterinarian was called to assess the animal which was then darted. Upon inspection it was seen that the animals’ tail was badly injured together with an injury to the right front foot. Both injuries were probably caused by bites during a fight. It was surmised that the injuries were caused to the Madikwe male during a fight with another cheetah belonging to MNP. The injuries were cleaned, bandaged and the animal was given pain relief medication. The decision was made to move the animal, together with his brother, to the Welgevonden predator boma for pro-longed antibiotic treatment, monitoring and recovery.
On May 11, during a follow up visit by a vet, it was determined that the injury to the tail was far more serious than originally thought with significant damage or possibly even a break suspected. This is potentially a disastrous injury to an animal that is heavily dependent on the tail to help balance when chasing down prey! The injured animal was transported to a veterinary surgery in Pretoria for more intense treatment where it was determined that there was substantial nerve and blood vessel damage to the tail together with infection. After micro-surgery on the tail to fuse blood vessels and nerves the animal started the road to recovery: antibiotics, pain relief and time to monitor the use of the tail were needed to determine if the surgery was indeed a success. The cheetah was returned to Welgevonden on May 20 to continue his recovery in the company of his brother in the predator boma. Once the medication had ended the cheetah had limited use of his tail.
In the following days the recovering male began using the tail properly again which was a huge relief! After nearly a month of interventions and a fortnight of monitoring, the two cheetah were finally released from the predator boma.
Great news was that the animals were seen on the reserve within a few hours of release and just two days later, they were seen back in the area where they were captured with the recovered male using the tail with full function restored.
Thank you to everyone involved in saving this precious animal.
Photos by Pip Myram