Pretoria - It was the great reveal. After months of being hidden by their mother, three cheetah cubs made their appearance at the Rietvlei Nature Reserve this week.
The three are the first cheetahs born in the reserve, Netwerk24 reported.
Regular visitors and staff had known that Kiara, the cubs' mother, had given birth in November last year and some of the lucky ones among them had seen her once or twice. But then the family "disappeared".
Magda Naude of the South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association (SAHGCA) said Kiara had hidden her cubs very well somewhere on the 4 000ha reserve. Recently, they suddenly appeared, giving Madeleen van Schalkwyk, a volunteer at Rietvlei, the opportunity to take a picture of them.
Cheetahs were introduced to the reserve in 2014.
The Pretoria East branch of the SAHGCA had given R44 000 to the reserve towards buying a male, Sanbona.
In November 2015 Kiara and another 3 orphaned cheetahs joined Sanbona with the assistance of the Endangered Wildlife Trust. They were taken to Rietvlei after their mother died while hunting in the Welgevonden Game Reserve in Limpopo.
The four young cheetahs were initially held in a boma and were only released in January last year. All four adjusted well and three of them were taken to other reserves.
Kiara stayed in the reserve and it was hoped that she and Sanbona would mate.
However, tragedy struck and Kiara was seriously injured while apparently trying to catch a wildebeest.
She was so badly injured that two of the toes on her front leg had to be amputated. A vet looked after her for a while before she was taken back to the boma. Staff were initially concerned that she would not be able to hunt on her own again. However, after a few months, she was given a clean bill of health and released into the wild again.
Exactly 12 months after arriving at the reserve, she surprised everyone with her three cubs.
Staff say she looks after them extremely well.
Dieter Labuschagne, the conservation co-ordinator of the SAHGCA's Pretoria East branch, says the success story of the cheetahs is proof that the general public can contribute to conservation.
"As hunters we are committed to safeguarding natural habitats."
When Kiara's cubs are 18 months old they will be moved to other reserves because Rietvlei is allowed just one cheetah breeding pair.
* Cheetahs have lost 76% of their historical habitat in Africa
* South Africa has the third largest cheetah population, but 91% of their habitat has been destroyed in the country.
* It is thought that there are between 600 and 1 000 cheetahs left in South Africa.
* According to the World Conservation Union cheetahs are vulnerable, but they might be classified as endangered soon.