It has certainly been an auspicious start to 2017 for Samara Private Game Reserve, with the discovery of newborn cheetah cubs on a mountain slope within the Great Karoo reserve. The cubs’ mother, Chilli, is the last daughter of the legendary Sibella, who became a beacon of hope and inspiration for a species on the brink of extinction.
The birth of Sibella’s grand-cubs marks an extremely special development not only for Samara but for those individuals working tirelessly to save these beautiful big cats. With fewer than 7,100 remaining worldwide, this latest birth represents a significant contribution to the cheetah’s ongoing conservation.
Sibella’s Story: from tortured to treasured
Sibella’s story touched hearts and minds, turning her into a celebrated figure both in South Africa and worldwide. Born a wild cheetah in South Africa’s North West province, her life nearly ended at the hands of hunters when she was just two years old. Attacked by dogs that tore the flesh from her hind legs, she was violently beaten and locked in a cage. Lying at death’s door, she was fortunate enough to be rescued by the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Trust. Following five-hour surgery and dedicated rehabilitation, Sibella was relocated to Samara, becoming the first wild cheetah back in the Great Karoo in 125 years. Quickly exceeding all expectations within her new environment, she recovered from her injuries and became an able hunter, going on to outlive most cheetah in the wild. Despite her previous violent experience at the hands of man, Sibella developed a unique bond of trust with the Samara team, her past suffering all but forgotten.
Successfully rearing 19 cubs across four litters during her lifetime, Sibella was an exemplary mother – giving birth on steep mountain slopes to avoid potential predators and eating only after her young had had their fill. Sibella died in 2015 aged fourteen, after a clash with a duiker during a hunt left her with a gaping hole in her abdomen. She left behind grown-up cubs that, like Chilli, are now flourishing in the wild. A true ambassadress for cheetah conservation, her genes are present in 15 populations across South Africa.
The Samara team will be keeping a close eye on the new cheetah cubs and will track their progress over the next few months and years. The spirit of Sibella lives on, and continues to give us hope that we can save this iconic species.