Born in South Africa’s North West province, Sibella’s life nearly ended at the hands of hunters. At two years of age she was set upon with hunting dogs who tore away all the flesh on her hind legs, a rope was forced roughly into her mouth, and she was savagely beaten and locked in a cage. Lying at death’s door, fear and mistrust haunting her eyes, 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, Sibella began a new chapter when she was introduced onto Samara along with two male cheetah, also rescued from conflict with farmers. The three cheetah were placed in adjoining temporary enclosures to enable them to get used to each other and their new environment.
From the moment of her release, all those involved in her rehabilitation waited anxiously to see whether she would be able to fend for herself, given her injuries and her trauma suffered at the hands of man. But we needn’t have worried. Sibella outlived most cheetah in the wild, dying of natural causes in 2015 at the ripe age of 14, proving herself to be a capable hunter despite the occasional twinge from her previous injuries.
Successfully rearing an astonishing 19 cubs in four litters since her release, she was also an exemplary mother – giving birth on steep mountain slopes to avoid potential predators and eating only after her young had 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 very reason for her existence.
This exceptional cat has done more than merely touch our hearts and allow us to marvel at her beauty. She is also a record-breaker of note, being the first cheetah back in the Karoo in 125 years, contributing 2.4% to the wild cheetah population in South Africa through her various litters, and featuring in dozens of magazines, newspapers and television programmes across the globe.
Although she is no longer, Sibella’s legacy and memory live on, both in the hearts of those lucky enough to have met her, and in the 15 protected areas across South Africa where her genes are now present. At the time of her death on 11th September 2015, Sibella was mother to 9, grandmother to 10 and great-grandmother to 18 cheetah still alive across the country. A truly remarkable cat.
Sibella: from tortured to treasured