It is with great sadness that we share with you the devastating news of the passing of Sibella, a cheetah whose story and legacy had captured hearts and minds throughout the world. As the first wild cheetah reintroduced into South Africa’s Great Karoo region in 125 years, and contributing 2.4% to the wild cheetah population in South Africa through her various litters, Sibella had become an internationally-recognised ambassador for cheetah conservation. She died aged fourteen in the early hours of Friday 11th September after an altercation with a duiker during a hunt, which left her with a gaping hole in her abdomen. Despite the vet’s best efforts, she did not make it through the night.
Sibella leaves behind an extraordinary legacy. A powerful symbol of the special relationship between man and wild beast, this exceptional cat has done more than merely touch our hearts and allow us to marvel at her beauty. Her story embodies not only the plight of the cheetah, but the immense potential for successful conservation of a species on the precipice of extinction.
Born wild in South Africa’s North West province, Sibella’s life nearly ended at the hands of hunters when she was only two years old. Set upon by dogs that tore the flesh from her hind legs, she was savagely beaten and locked in a cage. 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.
In December 2003, she began a new chapter in her life when she was released onto Samara Private Game Reserve near Graaff-Reinet. Since then, she has surpassed all expectations. Outliving most cheetah in the wild, she has proved herself to be a capable hunter despite her previous injuries. Successfully rearing an astonishing 19 cubs in four litters since her release, she has also been an exemplary mother – giving birth on steep mountain slopes to avoid potential predators and eating only after her young have had their fill.
The unspoken bond she shared with the humans in her new home was extraordinary – 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.
Sibella’s story, from tortured to treasured, is symbolic of the change in mindset required to conserve our planet’s biodiversity. 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.
For further information or hi res photographs, please contact Sarah or Isabelle Tompkins; firstname.lastname@example.org; +44 792 9150 466