By Guy Rogers Environment & Tourism Editor
TWO cheetahs were released in the Mountain Zebra National Park near Cradock yesterday, becoming the first free-ranging big predators in the area in more than a century.
The two 16-month-old females were acquired from Samara Game Reserve near Graaff-Reinet three months ago and have been acclimatising in a boma since then. They were fed with carcasses through this period, but as wild- caught cats their hunting instincts would have remained as strong as ever, said Mountain Zebra section ranger Johan de Klerk.
Both animals are fitted with radio collars. De Klerk and his team will be monitoring them carefully to see how they progress in targeting the park's antelope.
The dream of expanding the park and restoring this balance started a decade ago with the sale of two paintings by famous British artist David Shepherd.
More than R1-million was raised and the funds were passed on to SANParks, which added them to further sponsorship from Vesta Medicines, Sasol, WildAid and the Barbara Delano Foundation.
SANParks matched the total and the net funds were used to buy nine farms, expanding the park to 28 412ha.