Pride was born on May 1, 2006 in Harnas Wildlife Foundation’s wild cheetah enclosure –she was removed given the threat to her safety imposed by the other cheetahs living in the same enclosure as they had already killed two of her siblings and it was feared that they would kill her also. She grew up in Marieta’s kitchen and lived with Trust the lion but he eventually became too big and rough for her and they had to separated. Pride then moved in with Cleo, another cheetah that was born in the wild cheetah enclosure. They became ‘best friends’ and lived together on the farm. The VolunTourists walked them every day and sleep outs were always an experience – more often than not, VolunTourists would wake up in the sand having being carefully pushed off the mattress by Pride who had curled up snugly and purring on top of their sleeping bag and mattress. VolunTourists had no other choice but to spend the rest of the night sleeping in the dirt.
In 2009, Pride started on a soft release program in the Lifeline and the Harnas Research Program was founded. She was fitted with a VHF collar and released daily into the Lifeline and collected every evening. She showed very quickly that although she was hand raised, instincts never die. Her prey captures ranged from warthogs to juvenile kudu and her progress proved she was fit enough for a fulltime release. Her VHF collar was swopped with a GPS so her movements could be remotely tracked between sightings and on June 12, 2010 Pride was released fully. It didn’t take long for her to ‘settle in’ and she took down a large springbok within the first hour of her release.
For the first couple of weeks after her release, she stayed in the immediate area surrounding her release site but slowly and surely ventured further out and after almost two years of living in the Lifeline currently utilises the entire 8000ha site as her home range. Her hunting techniques have evolved as well as her interspecies predator awareness after encounters with brown hyena and more recently, our released wild dogs. She is well-adapted to the densely vegetated woodlands and prefers hunting in these areas over of the more open grassy plains. She will never lose her association towards humans but does not rely on them and is much less inclined to seek out attention as what she used to.
On the morning of March 17 2012, Pride was observed behaving in a way that was not typically characteristic of her. At 3:15pm that same day, we found Pride in a well-protected lair and her first cub (named Merci) – clean but still wet from Pride’s preening. Upon our return the following morning, we discovered the second cub (Beaucoup). For the first five days following their birth, Pride rarely left the cubs alone. On March 22, she made her first kill since the birth of the cubs – an adult springbok. Pride moved the cubs to a new lair every 48-72 hours with an average distance moved of 20 – 30m. As the cubs become more adapted to their surroundings and their senses developed, Pride would leave the cubs alone for more extended periods of time. Often leaving them just before daybreak and then returning just before sunset. The cubs were now apt enough to follow her without her needing to carry them and at 6 weeks of age, they moved over half a kilometre from the previous lair sighting – the largest distance recorded thus far. Pride had also begun to widen her hunting area from the 2km radius surrounding the cubs to the furthest observed point 5kms away (as the crow flies). Our first observed prey capture sighting of Pride and the cubs came on May 14 2012. Pride captured a young warthog and carried it over to the concealed cubs at which point all three shared in the feeding. This also marked the furthest recorded distance travelled by the cubs – almost 3kms from the previous recorded sighting.
The birth of Pride’s two cubs marked a new era for Harnas Wildlife Foundation and its Research Department. Not only have Pride’s release been successful as a hand raised large carnivore that can provide for herself without any human intervention, but that same cat has now made the ultimate contribution to the survival of her species. These cubs will remain with Pride and she will teach them how to hunt, how to survive and how to be free.
On 14th June 2012, Pride and her cubs were found on a recently captured springbok. However, one of the cubs seemed a little withdrawn and didn’t look well. Upon further observation, it seemed Merci had broken her right front leg. She was taken to Gobabis Vet where they were able to confirm she had in fact broken both her radius and ulna. After being sent to Windhoek to undergo surgery it was also shown that complications with the blood flow to her leg, prevented the surgery from being a viable option. She spent 3 weeks at the Windhoek Clinic where she was monitored and treated daily for her injuries and the final x-rays showed her bones had not only started to heal on their own, but were healing correctly – surgery was no longer required.
Merci then returned to Harnas for a further 2 weeks cage rest and it was great to see that the little cub had not lost her fighting spirit and constantly reminded staff that she did not care for their help or attention. However, it was during this time that Pride’s other cub, Beaucoup, who was still living with Pride in the Life Line passed away. After tracking Pride and finding no sign of her cub, a search was launched to find the cub. Unfortunately his tender age and the sudden onset of winter had made him particularly vulnerable to the elements with the autopsy proving that a lung infection that had developed into pneumonia caused his death. Merci continued to improve with her cage rest and after being given the all clear, she was reunited with Pride. Even with a total of almost 6 weeks apart and Pride losing her other cub, there was absolutely no animosity between them and Merci was even heard to be purring loudly– the first time in over 6 weeks. Pride instantly accepted her cub again and the two were released back into the Life Line.
Not long after we had successfully re-united mother and cub, we welcomed a new arrival to Harnas – an orphaned cheetah cub which we named Dinga (Zulu for “without a home”). He was about the same age as Merci which sparked much interest from the Research Department. The plan was then presented that it may in fact be possible to introduce this cub to Pride and if successful, she would continue to raise the cub, along with Merci, as her own. The premise was built on previous research that had shown adoptions are an occasional feature of cheetah reproduction (Caro 1994; Durant et al. 2004) with female cheetahs known to adopt cubs, provided they have a litter of similar age. Once the cubs leave their mother, this would also have a long term benefit for the cubs as they have a greater chance of survival and a better hunting success rate as a sibling group rather than as a singletons. Furthermore, adolescent females have significantly more success at capturing prey than their male counterparts (Durant et al. 2004), therefore, not only should the cubs benefit from ‘strength in numbers’ but Dinga should also benefit from the notion that having a sister will actually help improve his successes once he can no longer rely on Pride to provide his meals.
Dinga was introduced to Pride and Merci and after a couple of days, finally won the admiration of his new family. Behavioural observations were conducted over several days where we observed the social interactions between all three and closely monitored Merci and Pride’s reactions to Dinga. The new cub seemed eager to please his new family and eventually Pride responded to his chirrups with her own calls and some much welcomed attention and Merci eventually warmed up to her new play buddy and brother – but not without some protests. After we were confident the cats were interacting well and feeding together without any issues, we returned Pride and her family to the Life Line where she wasted no time in once again, providing her family with their next meal.References: Caro, T.M. 1994. Cheetahs of the Serengeti plains: Group living in an Asocial Species, University of Chicago Press. Durant, S.M, Kelly, M. & Caro, T.M. 2004. ‘Factors affecting life and death in Serengeti cheetahs: environment, age and sociality’ Journal of Behavioural Ecology, 15: 11–22.