Wildlife expert cuddles hand-reared cheetah before they say goodbye
Touching pictures show a cheetah being hugged by a wildlife expert as they prepare to say goodbye to one another.
And while in the wild the speedy big cats are rightly feared as killing machines, it is clear that it will be an emotional farewell.
Saba, a two-and-a-half year old cheetah, was hand-reared in the UK, but will soon be embarking on a new journey.
Together with fellow cheetah Nairo, Saba will be flown 6,000 miles to Africa to be “rewilded”.
Both the fearsome felines have been living at Howletts Wild Animal Park, near Canterbury in Kent.
Saba was hand-reared by Aspinall Foundation chairman Damian Aspinall and his wife, Victoria in their home.
Mr Aspinall said: “It will be difficult to say goodbye to Saba and Nairo, but finding ways to return animals to the wild is something I believe in passionately.
“This approach may challenge the zoo community, but it is the right thing to do and I sincerely hope more zoos around the world finally take notice and follow suit.”
Cheetahs are regarded as “vulnerable” by wildlife experts. with just 6,674 left in the wild.
Habitat loss, conflict with humans and increasing pressure from the illegal pet trade means that cheetah only inhabit around 10% of their historic range.
Now the Kent pair are set to leave the UK in early Spring 2020 for a new life in South Africa.
Mr Aspinall added: “It is more important than ever to support the wild population by bringing captive bred animals back to their ancestral homes for rewilding.
“We at The Aspinall Foundation have proven time and time again that it can work. We have already successfully rewilded animals in Congo, Gabon, Java, South Africa, Tanzania and China.”
The cheetahs will first settle in at Ashia’s Cheetah Centre in South Africa’s Western Cape before eventually moving to Mount Camdeboo Private Game Reserve, a 14,000 hectare property in Great Karoo.
There, they will undergo a rewilding process developed and successfully applied by Ashia over the last two years.
Mount Camdeboo is home to many rescued and rehabilitated animals, including a bull elephant rescued by The Aspinall Foundation in partnership with the Mount Camdeboo team in October 2019.
Mr Aspinall and his wife will accompany Saba and Nairo on their journey from the UK to South Africa, and will personally release them into their new home.
The groundbreaking project is the first time a captive-born, hand-raised cheetah has left the UK for rewilding in Africa.
A major fundraising campaign has been launched to support the move, with big cat fans able to “adopt” the cheetahs and all profits going to the move and ongoing care and monitoring of Saba and Nairo.