Don’t be fooled by the title.
When there is only one lone cheetah who patrols the land, the addition of a single extra animal automatically means a 100% increase in population size.
A 500% jump was certainly unexpected, but when two males moved in from the south, and a mother and two cubs from what we presume was the east, the boost was certainly welcome.
The female and cubs were the biggest surprise, and in an unusual twist of fate (that seems to be happening a lot these days), they were discovered in the same area as the last female with two cubs, who many will remember as the one who raised those two offspring successfully a couple of years ago.
The males look young and are therefore most likely nomadic. Their initial skittish nature suggests that they originated in the Kruger National Park, and are therefore not as habituated to vehicles as cheetah raised in the Sabi Sand Reserve might be. With a single male already in residence – the same one that has been around for about 5 years now – there is limited space for these newcomers, but being a coalition of two, anything could happen. They’ll need to grow a bit first, as their size indicates that they are probably only recently independent, but coalitions of males, as in lions, stick together to better their chances of a territorial takeover and in hunting, so we’ll watch this pair carefully.
Females are generally nomadic, as we saw when the last female drifted in. She raised her cubs for many months before eventually taking them all the way back to the Kruger Park, then again returned with them. When the cubs were finally independent, she moved off once more.
Both this new female and the two males, being new to the area, will most likely spend some time moving through the rest of the Sabi Sand, trying to establish whether or not there is a good place to settle. The open grasslands in Londolozi’s south west have been popular with cheetah before, but other factors like rival predator activity could determine whether or not these five cats stay.
Personally my money would be on the female and cubs sticking around, purely because of females’ non-territorial nature. They moved off Londolozi to the west quite soon after they arrived, but that’s the beauty of an open ecosystem like the Sabi Sand Reserve. Here one day, gone the next. Neighbouring reserves have reported their movements, if not from sightings then from their tracks. Our hope is obviously that the female raises the cubs in the area, and we can enjoy more spectacular viewing like in 2013 and ’14.
The males I don’t think will stick around. There is certainly room for them, but the presence of the resident male might be enough of a deterrent, causing them to seek life elsewhere.
As fantastic as it would be for the cheetah population of the greater Londolozi area to sit at 6 for the foreseeable future, optimistically I think 4 is what we should hope for, but we should have our expectations remain at 1, just so we don’t get too disappointed if the new arrivals head back into the fastness of the 6 million hectares of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park.