A pair of cheetahs from Howletts Wild Animal Park, near Canterbury in the UK are set to leave their home for a new life in South Africa on 6 February 2020.

This ground-breaking project will be the first time any captive-born, hand-raised cheetah has left a facility in the United Kingdom for rewilding in Africa.

nairo and saba cheetahs

From left: Saba and Nairo. Image supplied.

After a nearly 10,000-kilometre flight, the two-and-a-half year old pair will first stop in at Ashia’s Cheetah Sanctuary in the South Africa’s Western Cape province before moving to Mount Camdeboo Private Game Reserve, a 14,000 hectare wildlife reserve in the Karoo town of Graaff-Reinet. Here, they will undergo a rewilding process, which has been developed and successfully applied over the last two years by the Ashia Cheetah Sanctuary.

Ashia founder Chantal Rischard said:

‘We are delighted to welcome these cheetah brothers to our breeding, wilding and release programme which is already successfully returning captive-born cheetahs into the protected wild of South African game reserves and national parks. So far 9 cheetah, all born and raised in human care, have been successfully wilded and we have high hopes for these siblings,’

Mount Camdeboo is home to multiple rescued and rehabilitated endangered animals, including a bull elephant rescued by The Aspinall Foundation in partnership with Mount Camdeboo in October 2019.

Iain Buchanan, owner of Mount Camdeboo says:

‘It is an incredible privilege to be part of this landmark conservation project. To see these magnificent cheetah roaming free on Mount Camdeboo in the coming months will be one of the greatest moments in my life. I am confident that this project will pave the way for many more zoo animals to be ‘wilded’ and in so doing, contribute to the greater conservation effort which aims to increase the genetic diversity of these and many other species.’

Saba was hand-reared by Aspinall Foundation Chairman Damian Aspinall and his wife, Victoria, both of whom will be accompanying Saba and Nairo on their journey to South Africa and will personally release them into their new home.

A fundraising campaign has been launched to help support their move. Big cat-fans will have the opportunity to donate, ‘adopt’ Saba & Nairo and purchase limited edition merchandise on The Aspinall Foundation website. All profits will go directly to the move and ongoing care and monitoring of the two cheetahs.

Cheetahs are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, with less than 7,000 wild individuals remaining. Habitat loss, conflict with humans and increasing pressure from the illegal pet trade means that cheetah now only inhabit around 10% of their historic range.