The rehabilitation of orphaned animals is commonly practiced but rarely scientifically documented. The behavioural development before release (e.g. regarding hunting skills) is particularly important for ensuring animals are self-sustaining after release. We document the rehabilitation and release of three confiscated cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) cubs and one leopard (Panthera pardus) cub, which were taken from the wild in Botswana. The animals were raised with minimal human contact and the development of their hunting skills was observed and assisted by limited pre-release training. After release, all animals were monitored and data showed they successfully hunted, with behavioural patterns similar to wild conspecifics. All established stable home ranges at the release site. Home ranges of the cheetahs ranged from 44 to 121 km2, travelling primarily during the early morning and evening, ranging from 4.5 to 9.4 km/day. While the leopard survived and probably reproduced within a stable home range (449 km2), all three cheetahs were shot within 7 months of release. Therefore, although orphaned large felids can successfully hunt after release using appropriate rehabilitation techniques, they face the same human—carnivore conflicts of their wild counterparts. Our study demonstrates the indispensable but commonly neglected need for post-release monitoring in wildlife rehabilitation.
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