Wellington Zoo Cheetah brothers: Cango and Kunjuka
Wellington Zoo is home to two of New Zealand’s fastest residents – brothers Cango and Kunjuka. They were taken in by the Zoo after their mum rejected them shortly after they were born at Orana Wildlife Park in Canterbury. While this might seem unusual, it is actually very common behaviour on the part of female Cheetahs in the wild.
The 9 year old brothers Cango and Kunjuka have developed a very special bond. They play with each other, groom one another and often sleep next to each other. But, like any siblings, they have their differences. Kunjuka is the most alert of the pair and is often found checking the boundaries of their habitat. In contrast, Cango is happy to rely on his brother’s ability to make sure that they are safe and secure in their territory.
Cango and Kunjuka exhibit a social dynamic often seen in the wild, where male Cheetahs live and hunt in groups of up to 5 individuals, usually litter brothers. By contrast, female Cheetahs are always solitary unless they have their cubs with them or when it’s mating season. New research indicates that male Cheetahs behave in this manner in order to take, or hold territory and it makes them more efficient hunters with larger numbers.
While Cheetahs are extremely fast, able to reach 100kph in 3 seconds, they are non-confrontational. This means that they often have their kills stolen by other big cats, Hyenas or African Wild Dogs. Their non-confrontational manner makes sense when you consider that a Cheetah will generally weigh 21kg-60kg, which is tiny compared to a female Lion at 120kg-182kg. Even a slight injury sustained in a confrontation with another large predator could seriously compromise the Cheetah’s ability to hunt in the future.
Unlike Lions, Cheetahs cannot roar. Instead they make chirping sounds, and hiss or spit when they feel threatened. They are also unique in that they are the only big cat that can purr! If you’re lucky enough to book a Cheetah Close Encounter at the Zoo, they may sit purring loudly at your feet, which is a sign of them feeling content.
Unfortunately, as with many big cats, the Cheetah population in the wild is under threat. As of 2016 the wild population was estimated at only 7,100 individuals. This precarious state has been reached due to the usual combination of habitat loss, poaching and conflict with humans. Because of the wide ranges needed by Cheetahs they often encroach onto areas where people are raising livestock. Luckily, there are various programmes underway to prevent harmful interactions between farmers and Cheetahs. One of these, supported by Wellington Zoo, is Cheetah Outreach.
One of Wellington Zoo’s keepers, Bonnie, visiting Cheetah Outreach in South Africa. Photo: Wellington Zoo
Based in South Africa, Cheetah Outreach manages an Anatolian Livestock Guarding Dog Project. These guard dogs are raised to live with livestock. If a Cheetah threatens to attack stock, the dog scares the Cheetah away, so farmers don’t need to kill Cheetah to stop attacks. Wellington Zoo sponsors two Anatolian Dogs, Manaaki (meaning protect or look out for) and Wellington.
A guarding dog in action in Namibia. Photo: Wikipedia
An awesome way to help protect Cheetahs in the wild is to book a Close Encounter with them at Wellington Zoo. You might think you have heard a cat purr before but you’ve never heard anything like the huge rumbles that the Cheetahs give off!