By Tendai Kamhungira
Zimbabwe’s wildlife continues to make international news, after a six-year-old cheetah at Hwange National Park became the latest global newsmaker this week following the tragic and widely reported death of Cecil the lion last year.
The Hwange cheetah is believed to be among a most select few in the world to have given birth to five cubs in the wild and successfully keeping them alive and together for a year, in a development that experts say is likely to bode well for local tourism.
This comes as the international community is still fixated with Zimbabwe’s wildlife, following the death of world-famous lion, Cecil, which was gunned down by an American dentist and trophy hunter in 2015.
The cheetah, which has since been named HNP013 under a special Hwange National Park project, had her first litter of three cubs in 2014.
One of them died in a road accident soon after its natal dispersal — which happens as cubs get older and competition between parent and offspring gets stronger, leading to the offspring leaving the mother as it comes of age.
According to wildlife experts, the litter size of cheetahs usually averages about two, and very rarely gets to four cubs.
Commenting on the history-making local cheetah yesterday, the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks), said HNP013’s story was good news for the country, as it continued to work to attract international visitors through positive news.
“She has become the only cheetah in the country to see her young ones survive for this long period.
“This litter of five is her second litter and as Zimbabwe, we certainly hope she manages to keep all five to the end,” ZimParks spokesperson, Caroline Washaya-Moyo, told the Daily News.
In the wild, mother cheetahs move their cubs to new hiding places every few days. And at five to six weeks, cubs begin to follow the mother and also start eating from their own kills.
Washaya-Moyo said Zimbabwean tourism was largely wildlife-based, and as such, rare phenomenon such as this one involving the fastest land animal in the world, would help to increase tourist arrivals in both local parks and the country.
“She is indeed an iconic cheetah. The cheetah in Zimbabwe is in appendix one of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).
“But from an ecological perspective, the local environment is ideal for cheetahs. Other than natural causes of death, their population is also affected by human activities which include road deaths as well as snares,” Washaya-Moyo added.
Under Cites, appendix one includes animals threatened with extinction, with trade in specimens of these species only permitted only in exceptional circumstances.
According to the national cheetah population status, Zimbabwe has a population of about 170 adult cheetahs and of these, 80 percent are in wildlife protected areas, while 20 percent are found on commercial farmland.
The now famous six-year-old cheetah has a sister who had one litter of two cubs in 2014 called HNP012, and a brother named HNP011.
In 2015, Zimbabwe wildlife grabbed the world’s attention when Cecil the lion was gunned down by an American trophy hunter, Walter Palmer. The lion, which was a major attraction at Hwange National Park, was being studied and tracked by the University of Oxford as part of a larger study of the mammals.
His killing did not only trigger global outrage, it was reported on around the world, resulting in the hapless Palmer going into hiding.
Cecil’s rival Jericho, which was at first thought to be the iconic lion’s brother, died two months ago from natural causes. Daily News