A small founding population of cheetahs in Bangweulu Wetlands in north-eastern Zambia

African Parks: Zambia Hails the Return of Cheetahs to one of Africa's Most Important Wetlands

LUSAKA, Zambia, Dec. 18, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Bangweulu Wetlands in north-eastern Zambia has received a small founding population of cheetahs – the first of their species to return to this unique community-owned, protected wetland in almost a century.

The introduction of an initial three cheetahs from South Africa results from a longstanding partnership between Zambia's Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), six Community Resource Boards (CRBs) and conservation non-profit African Parks, which has managed Bangweulu Wetlands since 2008. They worked in conjunction with the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) Cheetah Range Expansion Project, which sourced healthy individuals from reserves in South Africa to re-establish a secure population in Bangweulu.

"With the reintroduction of cheetahs to this extraordinary wetland, Bangweulu serves as a paragon for community conservation. Our unique partnership with the Community Resource Boards and African Parks has unlocked an opportunity to help protect this vulnerable species from extinction in the wild, while helping to revitalize Bangweulu and enhance nature-based tourism," said Dr Chuma Simukonda, Director of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife.

At 6,570 km2, Bangweulu is of suitable size and habitat to support a viable cheetah population. Its connectivity to other protected areas provides the added potential of establishing a healthy metapopulation to promote the long-term survival of the species in the region.

With fewer than 7,000 cheetahs remaining in only a fraction of their historic range, safe protected areas are essential to the survival of the species in Africa's wild landscapes. "In many parts of the continent cheetahs face an uncertain future, but today the Zambian Government and Bangweulu's communities are providing them the chance to recover while contributing to tourism development in northern Zambia," said James Milanzi, African Parks' Zambia Director.

Bangweulu is listed as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International and as a RAMSAR Wetland of International Importance, and supports 50,000 local people who rely on the landscape's rich resources. Progress to restore the wetland has seen poaching decline dramatically, wildlife populations steadily climb, and tourism and other enterprise projects contributing revenue to the area and its communities.

The translocation was made possible thanks to Ashia Cheetah Conservation and National Geographic. Stichting Natura Africae, WWF-The Netherlands and WWF-Zambia have provided key multi-year support for the overall management of Bangweulu Wetlands.

Image: Cheetahs return to Bangweulu Wetlands, Zambia © African Parks / Andrew Beck (PRNewsfoto/African Parks)