Cheetah Kingdom

Friday, 17 September 2010, 8:00PM – 8:30PM on ITV1

Cheetah Kingdom gives viewers a unique insight into both the conservation and behaviour of one of the fastest mammals on earth – the cheetah.

Cheetah Kingdom focuses on the rescue, rehabilitation and release of this African big cat. It follows the largest cheetah release programme attempted in Namibia, a country that is home to roughly a quarter of the world’s cheetah population, where they’re routinely trapped by farmers protecting their land. This episode follows the fortunes of the group of Cheetahs being prepared for life in the wild and viewers get to see the next stage of their release as the gates are opened to their new 40,000 acre home.

The series follows Dave Houghton, an ex-pat Brit and former cameraman turned conservationist, and looks at his unique life at the Okonjima Nature Reserve with his partner Carla. But Carla hadn’t intended to have this kind of life and says: “Not in my wildest dreams did I think I was going to land up at a place like Okonjima working with animals. I was going to be a business woman. I don’t think I could ever go back to wearing high heels and power suits and having long nails. It’s just very foreign to me now.”

Dave has received a call from a vet three hours away about an injured eight-month-old cheetah cub who strayed onto a public road. Before taking the cub he checks the cheetah over and the fact that the cub doesn’t appear stressed gives him some cause for concern. He says: “You notice how her right pupil’s a bit bigger than her left. I wonder whether she might have some concussion or something.”

Back at the rescue centre five cheetahs are getting ready for their release into the 40,000 acre reserve. To keep track of their progress, the cats have been fitted with radio collars and Carla is joined by Director of Park Research, Andre Rousseau who is testing the equipment and will monitor their progress. No one knows how they will cope when they have to fend for themselves and Andre knows that his progress reports will provide vital information. He says: “Everyone’s going to ask ‘how are the cheetahs doing, where are the cheetahs, where have you seen them?’ That type of thing. So it’s going to be a lot of responsibility but a lot of exciting responsibility.”

The biggest day in Okonjima’s history finally arrives as the five cheetahs are ready to be released. But it’s going to be tough for them. Until now, they’ve been fed meat but in the future they’ll need to hunt for their food. The cheetahs have been well fed over the last few days to give them a head start in the reserve. The staff bring food to the cats for the last time after which they can survive for a couple of days before they need to bring down prey of their own.

The gates are opened and ever confident Coco is the first one out, followed by the rest. Dave says: “So far so good. The test will come when they wander off and start realising that they’re no longer in that camp and that they must now fend for themselves.”

The cheetahs are soon exploring their new home and, to the delight of Dave and Carla, are taking an interest in the other animals and potential prey, including a family of warthogs. The team will follow the cats closely but, for now, allow themselves a chance to celebrate.

Meanwhile, the injured cheetah cub that Dave brought in is spending the night with him and Carla. They’re both prepared for a sleepless night and Carla admits that there “might be a few trips to the clinic to check that everything’s okay”.

The cub’s injured leg will be x-rayed in the morning and the next 24 hours will be critical.

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