large carnivore vet research

Okonjima is also about facilitating Large Carnivore Research in Africa.

Every year in June/July Okonjima welcomes vets from around the region to carry out the annual health and dental checks on the carnivores that make Okonjima their home. During this time the cheetah, leopard, hyena, lions and wild dogs receive a full health check, some have their teeth fixed, others receive contraception etc. The vets in their specialist fields in turn are able to collect data and carry out studies on these magnificent creatures over many years.

annual health and dental check being carried out on one of Okonjima's lions

But the research does not stop there.

On a day to day basis, the guides at Okonjima are observing, noting, following the animals they all so love and collecting information on behaviour, which is equally important in learning about how these animals interact with each other if we are to understand them and help them survive. There has been a lot of action recently at Okonjima with new cubs being born and with this brings new challenges but also lots of interesting behaviour to be observed.

The following report is written by one of our guides, Previous Tsvigu,  giving us an insight into recent Cheetah activity on the reserve.


Do male cheetahs commit infanticide”? This study was done by Luke Hunter in 1998 in Phinda Game Reserve, SA – using a small population of re-introduced radio collared cheetahs, which is the exact situation we have in the Okonjima Nature Reserve.

Dizzy and her cub feedingYesterday during  a cheetah tracking activity with 6 guests, DIZZY killed a steenbok in front of us, about 50 metres from where we were also watching the three siblings lying in the middle of the road, in front of the OKONJIMA Nature Reserve, 20 000 ha entrance gate. The siblings immediately jumped up and quickly rushed to take DIZZY’S meal. She gave it up after a fight and then walked away calling her cub, who came from a thick bush about 150 m away.

Lesson 1- “Mum tells the very young cubs to stay in the bush when she is doing the actual chase, which might include a dangerous situation until further notice”! (Second observation of this behaviour).  As soon as the cub was visible, BONES immediately left bothering DIZZY and ran after the cub, which, fearing for its life, quickly disappeared into the thick bush.

When the second cub died the siblings were found in close vicinity to DIZZY, which made us suspect they were the culprits. This time -their behaviour confirmed our suspicion.

The siblings, Coco, Spud and Bones(The leopard and Hyena are not always to blame –Cheetah are often observed killing their own species)

Yesterday, SPUD did not seem interested in the cub as he continued fighting DIZZY. COCO the female, on the other hand was not even part of the squabble, as soon as she got dinner she was busy eating. BONES would not give up the search for the cub and that’s when I called for help – SG, Louis and I intervened.

Why would BONES want to destroy his own genes? We are quite sure he is the father because he was the only one who at times broke away from the sibling coalition and was observed mating with DIZZY and the late Tongs. SPUD was never found alone or with any one of the females except his sister, COCO. Even without genetic data, paternity in this scenario is clear. Would Spud have mated with Dizzy when they were close together without our observation and possibly be the father of the one of the cubs? Confusing?! Female cheetahs are known to have the same litter from different males.  Females can also be pregnant with dependent cubs.

dizzy's cheetah cubNevertheless, infanticide is rarely known to occur in cheetahs mainly because males are not assured that a particular female will stay in the males’ territory after losing cubs since females are not really territorial, but seem to wonder off in large home ranges.

(Dizzy and the late Tongs moved around everywhere within the 20 000ha’s, including the further northern sections of Okonjima – The Siblings however have never gone north again since Hammer was killed).

Should we introduce 2 or more females in the park for Bones to spread his genes without bothering Dizzy and her cub? PENTA is not on contraception and 2 of her cubs are possibly female. Difficult to say and the other problem is most of the sibling groups in line for rehabilitation have more males than females – and that would cause war.  The Hanssen family have also decided that the park does not have enough open areas with plains game and preferred cheetah prey base like more impala and springbok at the moment for any more introduction. The reason the de-bushing progamme has become a major priority, but lack of funding is slowing the process.

Then again – this doesn’t mean by introducing more females it will save DIZZY’S only remaining cub out of three, as the park has lots of leopards and again yesterday – the ‘bosses of the park’ Ricky Raine Rex & Ruby also appeared and were heading for piracy on the pirated siblings kill as well as giving DIZZY a hard time! By the afternoon they were found targeting the cub specifically.

I hope everyone understands the importance of collared wildlife in learning some of the hidden carnivore behaviour in both inter and intra-specific interactions!

Dizzy and cub having a moments peace.

When you make a visit to Okonjima and partake in our activities such as cheetah tracking please ask our guides questions! The Okonjima guides have a wealth of knowledge from being out in the bush every day. This knowledge helps researchers, but is also part of the Okonjima experience for you as a guest.



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