Midstreamers are fortunate to have one of the world's largest urban nature reserves only 30 minutes away from home. The Rietvlei Nature Reserve in Irene has 3 800 hectares of open grassland within the city limits of Pretoria, and offers superb sightings of the wild life of the South African highveld.
Among the many species of animals found in the reserve are two of Africa's "big five" the buffalo and white rhino, a hippo family, Burchell's zebra, many varieties of buck including eland, (the world’s largest antelope), black wildebeest, and ostrich. Patient visitors may also come across bushpig, hyena, black-backed jackal, porcupine, springhare, aardwolf and banded mongoose.
Rietvlei is also a bird lover’s paradise, with spectacular sightings of blue cranes, secretary birds, and a breeding pair of fish eagles. Other species include the goliath heron, darter, reed cormorant, and the green-backed heron.
THE CHEETAH RANGE EXPANSION PROJECT
There are only 7,000 cheetahs living in the wild today. More than half live in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana, but cheetah populations in Namibia and Botswana are declining. In Zimbabwe, there are only 170 cheetahs left.
Cheetah skins and body parts are sought-after items in African muthi markets, and cheetahs are often killed in territorial disputes with larger cats. The cheetah is the world’s fastest land mammal over short distances, reaching speeds of up to 70 miles per hour.
South Africa is the only country in the world with an increasing number of wild cheetahs, having grown from about 500 in 1975 to nearly 1,300 today.
The Rietvlei Reserve takes part in a relocation project run by the Endangered Wildlife Trust in South Africa, which has almost doubled the population of cheetahs in this project in ten years. The program moves cheetahs between (mostly private) game reserves to boost the gene pool. The relocated cheetahs are kept in fenced enclosures for four to six weeks to allow them to acclimatise to their new home environment prior to being set free.
Cheetahs at the Rietvlei Nature Reserve don’t have competition from other large predators so the reserve is a perfect place to form part of the programme.
Past Cheetah releases onto Rietvlei Nature Reserve have been highly successful. Eleven Cheetah were moved from Rietvlei between 2017 and 2019 and relocated to nine reserves in the Lowveld, Zululand, the Waterberg and the Karoo.
NJOZI AND HER CUBS
In August 2020 the Endangered Wildlife Trust relocated a female Cheetah, Njozi, from the Western Cape to Rietvlei. The 18-month-old female’s ancestry can be traced back to a female captured in the Kalahari in 2003, and a male that escaped from Mountain Zebra National Park in 2014, but was recaptured close to Graaf Reinet.
A new male cheetah, Thaba, was released into Rietvlei in 2021 to join a sub-adult Njozi for breeding purposes. Described as a magnificent large male with plenty of personality, the six-year-old male hails from the Shambalala Reserve in Limpopo. Njozi is Rietvlei’s only other cheetah and is kept permanently at the reserve for breeding purposes,
In March 2022 game rangers at Rietvlei Nature Reserve spotted five cheetah cubs which they estimate to be about six weeks old. The cubs were birthed by cheetah mother Njozi, which means “dreams” in Swahili.
Njozi is a shy mother and is mostly spotted during the early mornings or late afternoons. Visits to parts of the nature reserve are currently controlled to respect Njozi’s space while she hunts for food, until the cubs reach full maturity and can fend for themselves.