There is a lot of paperwork when it comes to moving animals from one reserve to another in southern Africa. The animals are settled into the crates, positioned in the plane so that mother and daughter can see each other to provide some comfort in this stressful environment. Many cheetah will never have encountered humans like this before, and certainly never have flown in a plane. The two different pairs of cheetah make their separate journeys by air to Maputo Special Reserve, with the females due to arrive first and the males the next day.

Vincent van der Merwe explains what is looked for when relocating cheetah from one part of Africa to another. With Maputo Special Reserve offering an enormous 150 000 ha of protected landscape, these four cheetah will have a spacious new homeland, but they also have an important role to play in the development of its ecosystem. The fact that cheetah are cursorial predators (identifying and hunting down weak individuals in a group) means they also help to control genetics, by removing the weaker strains of say, antelope, impala and other prey animals, the remaining gene pool grows stronger. So, cheetah are part of the future of a thriving Mozambique.

Mozambique represents a new frontier for cheetah relocation, as it encompasses several national parks in which the cats can thrive. What is useful in this restoration process is that cheetah are not wedded to a particular habitat, but fairly adaptable creatures. The fact that Peace Parks in partnership with Mozambique’s National Administration for Conservation Areas (ANAC), have fenced the reserve and rewilded populations of prey animals as well as developed the environment, means that Maputo Special Reserve is primed as a ‘guaranteed success’ reserve. With very few leopard or hyena and no lion at all, these cheetah will be able to thrive and, hopefully, help to populate other reserves too.

As the planes head towards Maputo, so too does Mozambique head into more prosperous times, with animals like these cheetah at the heart of its future.