From a cattle farm to a thriving game reserve called Selati

How the re-introduction of predators helped build a balanced, natural ecosystem.

Selati Game reserve was established around the late 1980s when seven neighbouring cattle farmers dropped their fences and removed their cattle to start ‘farming’ with wild game.  Collectively they had 21 000 hectares of land for this purpose. Around this time when the reserve becoming established, there was already a promising amount of game around the area including the rare Sable antelope, Nyala and Tsessebe. At that stage predator where not really in abundance and most large cats as well as hyena had been killed (mostly due to this area being used for cattle farming).

Sable Antelope (c) Cara Pring

Over time and as Selati grew in size, so did the amount of herbivore game. It was apparent that there needed to be a balance in the natural ecosystem of this reserve. The idea was that if more predators were re-introduced into the environment that it would help to complete the food chain and ultimately result in healthier conditions amongst the game.

Lions were first reintroduced into the reserve in 2002. Although Leopards have always been around, they are now being protected and their numbers remain stable. According to a leopard research program conducted a few years ago by Selati Game Reserve, they identified 23 individuals within the Reserve.

Male lion at Selati Game Reserve (c) Cara Pring

Previously, Selati would not have made an ideal habitat for cheetahs since they do prefer more open grassy areas that allow them to stalk their prey. Over time more farms formed part of the reserve and the landscape began to change, providing a more favourable environment for a cheetah to flourish. Selati is now a whopping 30 500 hectares of beautiful rich land.

In 2015, through extensive research and help from the Endangered Wildlife Trust about the fragile cheetah population on the reserve, they decided that they would re-introduce cheetah. Initially, the programme worked and the cheetah survived and stayed within the reserve. Unfortunately, as the lion population grew, so did the conflict between these animals and all, but one male cheetah was killed over time.

For conservation purposes, Selati management monitored the lion population closely and decided to relocate some of these predators. The remaining lion population declined naturally due to other predators killing lion cubs and natural causes like old age. As a result of this, it was decided that in 2018 Selati would introduce a female cheetah for the lone male cheetah who still lives in the reserve.

She was introduced to the game reserve in April 2018 this year and within 24 hours had found the male. They have been seen together on several occasions and hopefully, soon she will have young cubs running around. Typically, when new animals are introduced into a new area, there is a settlement period allowing the animals to familiarise themselves with their new surroundings. Also, because the male is a total stranger, she will most likely not conceive the first time they mate. It is known as a “pseudo” oestrous cycle. Until she is settled in and is comfortable with the male, she’ll mate again and hopefully conceive.

We will keep you up to date with this love story!