Sibella, Karoo’s queen of the cheetahs, dies

15 September 2015

Sibella the cheetah died early in the morning in the Samara Private Game Reserve near Graaff-Reinet after a clash with a duiker buck it was hunting. The cheetah suffered a deep wound to its abdomen.

Born wild in North West province, Sibella was rehomed in Samara in 2003. It had been captured and tortured by hunters at the age of two. Sibella died on Friday, 11 September.

“Lying at death’s door, she was fortunate enough to be rescued by the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Trust. She owes her life to the five-hour surgery and dedicated rehabilitation that ensued,” said Margie Varney, Samara general manager, said at the time of the relocation.

Sibella began a new chapter in December 2003, when it was released on to the Samara game reserve. The release surpassed all expectations.

Samara Private Game Reserve lies 20km southeast of Graaff-Rienet in Eastern Cape. It encompasses not only the Karoo mountain complex and parts of the Great Escarpment, but also sweeping plains to create a unique area for wildlife, including four of South Africa’s seven natural biomes. It is home to a variety of buck, birdlife and smaller carnivores, including the African wild cat and brown hyena, but is most famous for its Cheetah Metapopulation Programme, managed by the Endangered Wildlife Trust, of which Sibella was the most fruitful participant.

Sibella reared an astonishing 20 cubs in four litters at Samara, alone contributing to a 3% increase in the wild cheetah population in South Africa.

According to Varney, Sibella was a consummate mother, giving birth on steep mountain slopes to evade other predators, and always making sure the cubs had enough to eat and were well-protected before going out on their own.

Sibella had shared an extraordinary bond with humans. “With the birth of each new litter, when the cubs were old enough to leave their den, this wild cat dutifully presented to her human guardians her latest bundles of fur. The degree of trust she vested in human beings, walking to within just a few metres of them, was simply astounding – her past suffering at the hands of her tormentors all but forgotten,” Varney said.

On the official Samara blog, a simple message from Varney and the rest of the reserve team offered some final words on the loss of Sibella: “We mourn her loss but seek comfort in knowing that she lived and died in a wild environment. We feel incredibly privileged to have been witness to the life of this exceptional cat.”

On social media, wildlife photographers, conservationists and ordinary people from around the world posted heartfelt messages and photos of Sibella, queen of the Karoo cheetahs.

SAinfo reporter