A Tribute to Thandeka

Posted on Fri November 23, 2018.

A look back on Thandeka's journey, from her unique beginnings to her relocation to Mount Camdeboo at a young age where she lived out most of her years and immensely contributed to cheetah conservation in South Africa and Africa.

Thandeka was born on a private game reserve in the Eastern Cape in April 2003 and was the first cheetah to be released onto our reserve on the 12th December 2007. Her relocation to Mount Camdeboo, was a part of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT) Cheetah Metapopulation Project, which entails the management of approximately 361 cheetahs on 57 fenced reserves in South Africa and Malawi. The principal goals of the project are to maintain the genetic and demographic integrity of the metapopulation and to increase the resident range of cheetah in Southern Africa.

Thandeka settled into Mount Camdeboo quickly and soon made her first recorded kill on the 30th December 2007; a young blesbuck on the Skurwekop plains.

3 months later, after giving her some time to familiarise herself with her new home, a male cheetah was released onto the reserve. This is where Thandeka’s legacy began. She produced her first litter of cubs at the end of April 2008, which were well hidden on the mountain slopes of a valley that was then named after her; Katkloof.

Thandeka was an excellent mother, teaching her off spring how to hunt and fend for themselves.

She would often visit the staff houses and show off her cubs.

Tragedy struck in December 2014 when Thandeka was found with a broken hind leg that was discovered to be life threatening. She was darted for X-rays to be taken, which revealed a shattered tibia bone. There was major doubt as to whether she would survive her injury, however Iain Buchanan wasted no time in giving her the best possible chance of survival by sending her to Dr Peter Caldwell of Old Chapel Veterinary Clinic in Pretoria. It was a long and difficult journey.

Thandeka’s operation was a success and she was returned to Mount Camdeboo where, remarkably, she made a full recovery. She surprised us all, not only by her recovery, but by the fact that she was even able to hunt again and produce her final litter of cubs.

Thandeka will be sorely missed. She was the oldest cheetah in the metapopulation at the time of her death (15 years and 7 months) and has contributed immensely towards cheetah conservation in South Africa and in fact Africa too. She had a unique combination of Lowveld and Waterberg genetics, which made her unrelated to most other metapopulation cheetah. For this reason a concerted effort was made to send her offspring far and wide, introducing her genetics into news areas including:

• Madikwe Conservancy, Waterberg (Limpopo)
• SANWild Game Reserve, Gravelotte, Lowveld (Limpopo)
• Liwonde National Park, Malawi
• Rogge Cloof, Sutherland (Northern Cape)
• Garden Route Game Lodge, Albertinia (Western Cape)

Her grandson and granddaughters were utilised for the landmark reintroduction attempt into Liwonde National Park in Malawi, a country were cheetah were completely extirpated by the 1980s. One of her granddaughters from this relocation successfully produced her own litter of cubs. 

Her legacy will live on and our beloved Thandeka will never be forgotten. A special thanks to Vincent van der Merwe who heads up the EWT's cheetah metapopulation project for his invaluable ongoing advice, support, and assistance, and for the EWT's contribution to Thandeka's conservation legacy.