Dash, Ruff and Tumble first came to AfriCat in 2008 at the age of one month and lived at AfriCat’s Carnivore Care Centre for the following four years. In 2012 the sibling trio was released into Okonjima’s 20 000 ha nature reserve together with their coalition mates Dizzy and Baxter.
Their rehabilitation process seemed promising in the beginning, as they started to hunt almost immediately after their release. After Baxter was killed not long after the release and Dizzy decided to lead a solitary life, the remaining trio only had sporadic hunting success and eventually became sedentary along the eastern boundary fence where game is sparse. After six months of limited movement and minimal hunting success, the decision was made to take Dash, Ruff and Tumble back to AfriCat’s Care Centre in December 2012 where they would act as educational ambassadors for their wild counter parts. The group was called ‘The Masters due to their advanced age and in recognition of their work as “educationalists”.
In May 2017, Dash, Ruff and Tumble had another chance to make it in the wild. We decided to give them this chance because they had always remained quite wild despite their daily contact with people and because we wanted to reduce the number of cheetahs in captivity as much as possible. We were obviously concerned whether they still had what it takes to become successful in the wild, taking into consideration their advanced age of nine years and their many years in captivity. Three days after their release, the trio split up and moved off in different directions. While Ruff and Tumble reunited after two days, Dash moved into the westerly areas of the reserve.
Both groups, Ruff and Tumble, and Dash on her own, managed to make the odd kill from the very beginning. Even though they needed occasional support, it seemed as though they were making their new chance in the wild count. Unlike most rehabilitated cheetahs, the Masters never became sedentary or remained close to a fence line for too long, but kept moving into areas with high prey abundance and water.
In September, Tumble’s condition deteriorated rapidly and he experienced severe weight loss, depression, limited movement and less than normal fluid and food intake. He was brought back to AfriCat’s Carnivore Care Centre where the team tried to rehydrate him and offered supportive treatment. As there were no visible signs of improvement, we decided with heavy hearts to end his severe suffering and to put him to sleep humanely and painlessly. Post mortem results confirmed renal failure affecting the liver and the gastro-intestinal tract, causing blood-loss through vomiting and diarrhea, as well as early signs of icterus.
After Tumble’s death, Dash reunited with her brother Ruff. They were regularly found on kills together, with Dash the main hunter of the duo. During the health checks in June this year, it was found that as a result of their advanced age, most of their teeth were not in the best condition anymore. Additionally, Ruff had lost one of his upper canines in August.
During the next few weeks, and despite regular hunting success and additional feeding by the AfriCat team, Ruff lost more and more weight and his condition deteriorated quickly. By the end of November, Ruff was immobilized in order to thoroughly recheck his health status. We discovered that Ruff only had five remaining teeth, including two broken lower canines and three premolars, which prevented him from chewing properly. Furthermore, his fur and eyes appeared dull, his mucous membranes were dark and he showed a mildly irregular heartbeat. Based on his very poor body condition and due to the absence of a functional chewing mechanism, we decided to end his suffering and put Ruff to sleep. Post mortem analysis revealed beginning stages of liver and kidney failure as well as corneal oedemas of both eyes.
We are glad that both Ruff and Tumble didn’t spend their last months in captivity, but in the wild where they belonged.
After the death of her two brothers, we were torn about whether to take Dash back to AfriCat’s Carnivore Care Centre or whether we should give her a chance to shine on her own in the wild. During the past 20 years of cheetah research and rehabilitation, we have found that cheetahs that are released in coalitions of three to six individuals usually show a higher success and survival rate than animals that are released alone or in pairs, because of increased vigilance and hunting success of groups.
But as she had spent time apart from her brothers after their release in any case, we decided to leave her in the reserve and to keep a close eye on her.
Dash quickly moved into the newly opened plains in the southern part of the reserve where she spent many weeks hunting successfully and was frequently seen on steenbok or duiker kills. In January 2018, she left her southern hunting grounds and moved over the mountain range back into the central parts of the reserve. Despite her age, Dash still seems to be in good health and is successfully conquering the wild on her own.