There was a breakthrough in cheetah conservation after a South African woman found the secret to breeding them in captivity. Now South Africa has gone a step further – trans-locating problem cheetah to new areas, spreading and safeguarding the fragile gene pool.

Did you know?

Cheetahs make birdlike chirruping sounds, and even yip like dogs. They also purr when content.

Cheetahs were the first African mammals to be tamed, and in Roman times were favoured by kings and princes as pets and hunting companions. But cheetahs mysteriously refused to breed in captivity until a South African woman, Ann van Dyk of a Cheetah Centre named in her honour, found the secret: the females like to choose their partners. They will not mate with just any male.

Since that breakthrough, cheetah conservation has been boosted by the lessons learnt through captive breeding.

Cheetah numbers have been diminished because so much of their habitat was taken to farm livestock - and farmers the world over are intolerant of large predators. Now conservation of cheetah focuses on translocating 'problem cheetahs' to new conservation areas where their presence is celebrated.

The conservation of cheetah is affected by high lion populations (their worst enemy) in national parks, but there are fair-sized populations in the Kruger National Park and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

A new trend for conserving cheetah in South Africa sees them being placed in private game reserves, especially where there are no lions. And here they are thriving.

Cheetah conservation is critical. Around 10 000 years ago, they went through a genetic bottleneck so acute some say all cheetahs alive today may descend from a single female. They are very vulnerable to inbreeding.

Yet this remains one of the Earth's most remarkable animals, able to accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in three seconds. It leaves sports car owners gasping in envy.

During this fantastic sprint, the cheetah is literally flying nine metres through the air between strides, touching the earth four times a second. It is an explosive act of grace few people are privileged to see.

Related articles