Two cheetahs flown to new home

In an effort to bolster genetic diversity and contribute to the survival of the species, Parc Safari has sent two of its cats to Zimbabwe

Two cheetahs flown to new home

Photo credit: Parc Safari

A pair of cheetahs from Quebec’s Parc Safari have endured an epic journey and are enjoying their sunny new home at a Wildlife Conservation Preserve in Zimbabwe.

The idea of re-introducing two of Parc Safari’s young male cheetahs to their natural habitat has been on the mind of the park’s management for a while. The brothers, named Kumbe and Jabari, were born in 2019 and proved to be an ideal fit. Having two youngsters with strong genetics, the park went ahead this year knowing they could help bolster the genetic diversity of the wild population and contribute to the survival of the species.

One of the brothers at 5-weeks old. Credit: Parc Safari

”We love our animals deeply, and it is hard to let them go, but we know we are contributing to a bigger cause,” said Jean-Pierre Ranger, President of Parc Safari. “We are proud of this achievement and grateful to our many partners, including the government of Zimbabwe. The goal is not only to add captive-bred animals to the local population, but to increase genetic diversity so as to guard against inbreeding. To protect, care and love is our mission.”

Parc Safari, located south of Montreal in Hemmingford, Quebec, collaborated with The Aspinall Foundation — a UK-based charity whose mission is to halt the extinction of rare and endangered species and return them to the wild where possible — and the Imire Rhino and Wildlife Conservation Preserve in Zimbabwe.

A long trip

The two brothers began their journey in early February with a road trip from snowy Parc Safari to Toronto Airport. From there, they boarded a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner in specially-designed transport crates for the 14-hour flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Aspinall Foundation reported that both cheetahs remained calm and comfortable during the flights and maintained contact with each other throughout with their bird-like chirps and calls. From Addis Ababa they flew to Harare, Zimbabwe, where teams from Imire and The Aspinall Foundation transported them to their new home.

Kumbe and Jabari in their quarantine boma. Credit: Parc Safari

“Kumbe and Jabari will spend 60 days in a quarantine boma [a large plot of land] to allow them to acclimatize to their new life under the African sun. They will also practice chasing a lure and prepare for their first hunt. Upon release from their quarantine boma, they will move into Imire’s 4,500 hectare reserve. At that stage, their natural instincts will kick in. We will monitor them closely and provide them with supplements if necessary,”explained Nathalie Santerre, Zoo director at Parc Safari, who prepared the cheetahs for their exceptional journey.

Kumbe and Jabari, now 18-months old, are beginning to acclimatize to the current 30-degree Zimbabwean summer, and are practicing hunting before their release into the main conservancy. “Everything went fine, and the two cheetahs are very happy to be in nature and in the hot weather of Africa,” said Marilyne Levesque, spokesperson for Parc Safari.

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A first for Zimbabwe

A year in the making, the huge effort involving multiple organizations will hopefully help stabilize the species which is especially threatened in Zimbabwe, where the numbers in the wild have fallen dramatically over the last few years. In time, the cheetahs may help repopulate other reserves. The project is the first of its kind for Zimbabwe, which has never before received captive-bred cheetahs for re-wilding.

About Parc Safari

Since their arrival in 2013, cheetahs have been a favourite of visitors to the park; there are currently 13 of varying ages. Since the first cheetahs arrived, Parc Safari has contributed to the Species Survival Plan (SSP), a pan-American program to breed cheetahs in captivity. The initiative was established by the American Zoo Association to maintain and maximize the genetic diversity of animal populations.

There are only four zoos in Canada accredited by Canadian Association of Zoo and Aquarium (C.A.Z.A) that have the privilege of providing homes to cheetahs. Parc Safari and the Toronto Zoo have a mutual partnership, and in 2016 a female cheetah named Cleo arrived from Toronto to be part of Parc Safari’s conservation and captive breeding program. Cleo proved to be an excellent mother and has delivered four healthy cubs, including Kumbe and Jabari.

Parc Safari is home to more than 500 animals from all continents and aims to protect endangered wildlife while providing people with a unique experience for the whole family. It celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020 and will reopen to visitors mid-May 2021.