17 July 2012 by Kate Turkington

Cats’ cradle

Endangered, orphaned and abandoned cheetah, leopard, serval and caracal cubs are being nurtured at a rehabilitation centre near Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal.

A cheetah cub dozes in the sun

I was in KwaZulu-Natal to visit Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer War battlefields and was staying in the Nambiti Private Game Reserve just outside the historic town of Ladysmith.

But the invitation came: “Would I like to visit Le Sueur Cheetah & Wildlife Center at Woodlands Private Safari Lodge?” Of course!

Who goes there?

Then I meet 6-month-old cubs that are mock-fighting with each other. These hunt-and-catch skills will serve them well 1 day when they once again roam free.

Here I discovered how abandoned wild felines are being rehabilitated before being released into the reserve. Some were found by the roadside, others orphaned by snares and hunting. Now most will have the opportunity to make it to adulthood and freedom.

Not all can be released – 1 young female cheetah whose legs were badly injured will stay in semi-captivity but become an ambassador to schools. Another will form part of a breeding programme.

Gideon, the enthusiastic young ranger who cares for the cats with his dedicated staff, gave me a quick rundown of the plight of cheetahs in the wild – they are a highly endangered species.

Then I meet 6-month-old cubs that are mock-fighting with each other. These hunt-and-catch skills will serve them well 1 day when they once again roam free.

A young leopard tests his tree-climbing skills

As I photograph them, they lie down for a rest and purr very loudly.

A serval washes its whiskers in another enclosure, whilst 2 newly arrived caracal kittens, whose mother has been killed by a farmer, tuck themselves away in another separate enclosure.

A young leopard, not yet a year old, abandoned by its mother, is playing nearby. One day it will join others who live in the reserve, but are infrequently seen.

I’m so glad I accepted the invitation – it was both an education and a privilege to interact with these graceful, beautiful creatures.

A beautiful and rarely glimpsed serval washes its whiskers

Category: Wildlife


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