Written by Chantal Rischard - Founder of the Ashia Cheetah Conservation Centre
Bold cub, mischievous teenager, avid adult hunter, and incredible mother… Khatu was born in late March 2018. Together with her sibling Khai, she saw the light of the day in a cheetah breeding centre. They stayed with their mother until relocation to Ashia Cheetah Sanctuary at four months of age to be slowly prepared for ultimate release on game reserves in South Africa. From the beginning, Khatu was the more adventurous, boisterous, and rascally of the two, but both took to their later life in the wild like fish to the water. Images below of Khatu with her brother Khai before rewilding.
In September 2019, the gates to one of Ashia’s wilding sections opened for the two subadults after having watched tantalising prey outside their holding boma for some time. At 16 months, Khatu and her brother successfully took down their first springbok after only three days out on the wilding section. They stayed and hunted together on this 600-ha safe space without needing any supplementary feeding until December 2019. Khatu stayed in the wilding section after her brothers release and had no problems fending for herself, hunting every 2nd to 3rd day.
Her big day finally came in mid-March 2020 when she was translocated to Buffalo Kloof. Released from the holding boma onto this stunning reserve a couple of weeks later, she didn’t waste any time. By mid-April, she was already spending three days with the resident male and hunting successfully on her own.
And so began her life as a cheetah mother…
During the three months of her pregnancy, she widely explored her new habitat and conducted some taste tests of the incredible variety of antelope species populating the four different flora biomes of Buffalo Kloof. Surprisingly, since her release, Khatu has been spending most of her time in thick bush – typically not a preferred cheetah habitat.
End of June 2020 Khatu’s behaviour changed slightly. She was slapping, hissing, and defending her kills whenever someone came too close; natural behaviour due to a pregnancy. She gave birth to her first litter of 2 cubs mid of July 2020. Sadly, the cubs could no longer be spotted after a couple of weeks. Jessica, monitoring her daily, suspected predation by a leopard, as she had recorded three leopards on camera traps in the area.
Being the special cheetah she proved to be on numerous occasions, Khatu was determined to become not only a cheetah mother but a super mom. At the end of November 2020, she was visibly pregnant again. At the beginning of January, she gave birth to her second litter – this time to no less than 6 cubs!
Having learned a valuable lesson with the previous litter, she chose a different denning area on the opposite side of Buffalo Kloof. Still sticking to the denser bush, hunting in or on the fringes of the thicket, and successfully avoiding leopards and hyenas. She did an amazing job with her new cubs and raised all six to adulthood.
Whether Khatu adores being a mom or simply loves being with a cheetah male is unknown, but roughly 16 months after her second litter, she split from her six subadults and did it again… Mid April 2022, she gave birth – believe it or not – to another litter of 6 healthy cubs! A true super mom! Although one of her new cubs was found dead in the first month – cause of death unknown – she continues to care and provide for 5 happy cubs, and the whole family is doing great as yet.
Khatu has done and is doing a brilliant job raising many cheetah cubs despite the presence of predators so much stronger than herself. Her six adult cubs – 4 females and 2 males – have all been placed on new reserves within the South African Cheetah Metapopulation and will hopefully fill their mother’s shoes in spreading their valuable genes far and wide. Khatu has raised 11 cubs to date in the first 36 months of this successful rewilding!