Conserving The Future

KWANTU REHABILITATION CENTRE

Kwantu Private Game Reserve’s education and rehabilitation center is home to five different species of predator. Designed in such a way that it maintains its natural outlook, the rehabilitation centre gives the five endangered predators that much needed connection with the wild although they are living in a cordoned off zone. The predators that have found home at the centre include Lion, Bengal Tigers, Cheetahs, Wild dogs and Serval cats.

The Kwantu Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre aims to contribute to the conservation of endangered species and the rehabilitation of injured and poisoned wildlife. The Kwantu Game Reserve team are a group of dedicated conservationists committed to the preservation of wildlife.

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PREDATORS SUCCESSFULLY RE-WILDED

“The objective of the predator educational and rehabilitation centre is one centred around conservation where Kwantu adopts endangered, injured and abused animals and puts them through a rehabilitation and rewilding process where they can then be released back into the wild”

The Serval rarely seen specie is regarded as endangered hence the initiative taken by Kwantu Private Game Reserve to preserve and nurture it. Kwantu Private Game Reserve is also using this centre for breeding as some of the predators are faced with extinction.

For example, the wild dog which is rarely seen in its natural habitat today, the wild dog is one of Southern Africa’s most highly endangered mammal specie. As a hunter and meat eater requiring an extensive habitat, it is constantly in competition with humans, and particularly with livestock farmers.

Bengal tigers that are also found at the centre are one specie whose population has deteriorated in the world. The breeding program carried at Kwantu has seen the birth of a Bengal tiger cub to resident tigers at the centre after long and arduous times of work and serious research that finally paid off after 4 years. The young cub is doing well and is in the process of being hand raised on the reserve by Zoology staff.

As part of the education and research program the animals are kept to enable the researchers to follow their behavior. Currently three lion cubs that were hand raised are doing well at the centre with the Kwantu researchers hoping to see the cubs develop into fully grown predators before they are transferred to other parts of the country were the lion population has decreased because of human influences such as hunting.

KWANTU RE-WILDING PROGRAMME

REWILDING HISTORY – LIONS

DESCRIPTION:

NAME SEX COLLAR NO. CHIP NO. AGE
Zulu Male 148-8620 978000001079773 6 Years 10 Months
Chiedza Female 148.752 978000001065230 9 Years 5 Months

ANIMAL HISTORY:

1) Zulu born on Kwantu to 2004/10/03 – Not completely handraised as a cub but habituated to people by means of feeding and a domesticated mother allowing interaction. Zulu was recognised as a potential release candidate after displaying adequate signs of non-interaction with people, dominance over the other lions and potential hunting abilities during play.

2) Chiedza born at Addo Lion Ranch 2002/03/12 – Handraised as a cub at her place of origion, Chiedza allowed interaction until the birth of her first litter, after which the lioness showed rewilding potential by means of dehabituating herself in the absence of continued human interaction.

REWILDING PROCEDURES:

The identification of lion as a potential Keystone species within Kwantu Game Reserve was brought about by the excess breeding of prey species within the Reserve and the minority of adequate predators to naturally control the prey species.

Both lions were identified as potential release candidates from Kwantu existing stock due to personality traits, potential ability to successfully hunt wild prey species, non-relation to one another in the case of breeding within the wild, the ability to assess a situation and react appropriately (as demonstrated and compared by watching wild born lions) and the potential to be non invasive in the tourist arena of the Reserve.

Assessment techniques – in captivity:

Careful hidden monitoring of ongoing interactions with a 1 ha camp with other lions was found to be the most productive manner of assessment. This allowed for character, play and aggression assessments and general feeding techniques to be assessed, amongst other normal behavioural exhibits.

REWILDING TECHNIQUES/PROCEDURES:

1) Removal of habituation to humans – This was achieved in this case by preventing any human contact with the lions apart from a viewing platform outside of the lion camp. The lions systematically dissociated with humans and became less active with the arrival of vehicles or people, displaying more social behaviour amongst themselves and remaining ignorant to the human factor while being viewed.

2) Removal of the association of humans to food provision – This was achieved by a pulley inserted into the camp from the outer perimeter. The loading area for the carcasses was concealed and voices were not to be heard during feeding. Vehicle noise was still associated with feeding but this could not be avoided due to the size of the carcasses to be fed. Dry/false feeding was done to circumvent this and the lions soon learned not to expect food every time a vehicle approached.

3) Introduction of whole carcasses instead of cut meat – Both lions took to the dismantling of carcasses immediately in an effective manner. The siphoning of stomach contents was immediately noticed and was never taught. Both lions exhibited the killing bite on the necks of all carcasses fed. The eating of the easily perishable meats and contents first was also an immediate unlearned action. No live prey could be fed to be able to assess killing methods.

4) Placement of the candidates within an enclosed area in the wild – The lions were introduced and born into an area within the main reserve of 1 ha of natural substrate and bush. This allowed the association with other game species through the wires of the camp. No artificial shelter was provided and water was available from a natural spring.

Zulu and Chiedza in external camp within reserve: Image as per 2009

5) Constant assessment – Assessment within the camps is outlined in the document. Assessment in the wild was made easier by the placement of telemetry collars on both the lions. This provided for easier tracking and monitoring of kills and social behaviour as well as movements on the Reserve.

RESULTS OF REWILDING:

Release of the lions took place in April of 2009. Both lions were released from the Day Centre area near water in a direction allowing the most area without encountering a fence or artificial barrier and to allow them to move away from the persons monitoring the release.

Chiedza was first released with Zulu following about 10 minutes afterwards. Chiedza chose a course down the nearest valley with Zulu taking refuge in a bush on the far side of the dam. Both lions have been under constant, uninvasive monitoring since release.

Both lions are tolerant of vehicles and do not display aggressive behaviour towards them or people. Neither lion has been observed or noted to have approached vehicles or people in the reserve but continue with normal behaviour while being observed. Neither has used a vehicle as a buffer for hunting purposes.

Within the first night of release, Chiedza killed, but did not eat a Bushpig. This is typical of wild lion as they exhibit the same behaviour. Zulu has to date done the same in killing Bushpig, presumably with the pig approaching one of their kills, but not eating them. Warthogs are often caught and eaten.

All habituation has seemingly been removed from the lions and they exhibit a normal social behaviour. 2 Cubs were born on the 12/05/2011 and are in exceptional health. During her captive years, Chiedza had problems tending to her young and nursing them effectively. This has remedied itself in the wild. Chiedza displayed normal behaviour before and after cubbing by alienating herself from Zulu and only joining him on kills. At 2 months the cubs were introduced to their father. This is in line with wild lion behaviour.

Both lions have become effective hunters based on the efficacy of the kills made, the manners in which the kills are made and the utilisation of their environment to make the kills. The lions have taken to hunting in thicker vegetation at times for the larger prey species, thereby prohibiting easy movement of the prey and enabling a quicker kill. No utilisation of fences has been recorded to date as a barrier method for making kills.

Referring to the table below, the lions are utilising energy efficiently by making larger kills, thereby decreasing the amount of kills to be made and enabling a longer period between having to hunt. The documentation of smaller kills is difficult due to the lions finishing the carcass or not leaving enough remains to be found. Various hunts and chases on smaller antelope and warthogs have been observed by guests and staff alike.