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Tuesday, 27 December 2005

Shiraz's mystery cubs

We sure were surprised in September when, during our daily feeding of cheetahs, Shiraz arrived with four cubs behind her! They were about 5-6 weeks of age, the time when cubs begin to follow their mothers from the den. As we dated back the birth, we noted that on 14 July Shiraz did not come out to get her food. We did not take this as a problem, as the next day she was there as eager as ever. And, where did these cubs come from? We knew that as well.

For many of you who came to one of my talks during my US and UK tours, you will remember that during our initial camera trapping study, where we were calibrating the cameras, we got some great photos of two male cheetahs. One was missing part of his tail, and what remaining of it looked very infected. So, we set a cage trap and caught him; we named him Bob. Bob went to the veterinarian where his tail was amputated, and was under heavy anesthesia when we put him back into a holding pen, next to the fence where we had set a trap to catch his brother, whom we named Einstein.

We normally would have put Bob in a capture cage to help in catching his brother, but we could not put him in anything smaller because of his recently amputated tail. The next morning, Einstein was caught and Bob was out in the 64-hectare camp with our female cheetahs. We were able to get all the females into holding pens and then darted Bob to move him and his brother to our quarantine pens. We collected sperm on Einstein, who was sterile, so we were hopeful Bob was too! But, exactly 93 days later, cubs were born to Shiraz. We can only be thankful that none of our other females were in heat that day. In 2006, Shiraz and her cubs will be a part of a re-introduction research project. Last year we began this with two other females, Rosie and Daisy.

This year, the 4,000-hectare game-fenced area of Bellebenno has had 152 swing gates added, with a monitoring program to try to teach warthogs to use the swing gates instead of digging holes to come and go through the fence. If this project is successful, then Shiraz and her cubs will learn to hunt and live in this area with a hopeful future of life back in the wild. Other research for the new year includes continued monitoring of camera traps for ongoing censusing research on Namibia’s cheetah population. We thank all our volunteers and students for their help through out this past year!

--Dr Laurie Marker

Three new cubs arrive at CCF Namibia

There are now three more cheetah cubs at CCF. We have named them after the Hogwarts trio: Harry, Ron and Hermione. They joined us after a farmer who had picked the cubs up in the bush called us. His herder had heard the cubs calling out to one another for over a week.

The cubs were easily caught due to their young age and weak condition; however it took a second week to catch the third cub (Harry). It appeared that they had lost their mother and her fate remains unknown.

They are adapting very well to their home at CCF and they remind us daily why we are doing what we do - cheetah conservation, so cheetahs can live free! Importantly, orphan cheetahs need proper housing and care, and because of the success in our awareness, we are receiving more concerned calls such as this from farmers.

Sadly, the cost of caring for these orphans results in less funding for our research and conservation programs for the wild cheetahs. For this reason, I would really like to ask all of you, our cheetah friends from all over the world, to help us share the responsibility for the care of cheetahs such as these.

As we reach the end of 2005, and as you plan your next year, I would really like to ask you to remember that you can help CCF by giving a live gift to a loved one by sponsoring one or more of the orphan cubs at CCF. To learn how to sponsor a cheetah please visit our Sponsorship page.

-- Dr Laurie Marker

Ethiopian cheetahs rescued!

For me, every day is a cheetah day, but this US Thanksgiving Day was one to remember. CCF's Patricia Tricorache and I had been working for several days prior to coordinate the rescue of two orphaned cheetahs in Gode, Ethiopia. The cubs, estimated at approximately 5 months of age, were illegally purchased at a local market for 50 birr (or $6) by a local hotel owner. We have learned that there is illegal catching of young animals in southern Ethiopia (especially carnivores), which we have found are often sold to buyers in the Saudi Peninsula.

These cubs were tied to the ground by an 8-inch rope, and one of the cubs had a severely infected eye. They were reported to CCF by concerned representatives of the US military Civil Affairs unit based in Gode, who were offered the cubs for $1,000. Fearing that offering any amount of money for the cubs would encourage more poaching and further decimate the cheetah population, and realizing that this was illegal, the US military personnel contacted CCF for assistance.

Through our extensive network, we were able to coordinate a group of Ethiopian officials and concerned individuals, helped by representatives of the US Embassy in Addis Ababa, the US military unit, and the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Program to confiscate the cubs and fly them to Addis for veterinary attention and proper care and housing. Both cubs were malnourished, and the male's severely infected eye will be reassessed as soon as he gains some weight and recovers from the stresses.

We cannot thank enough all the people who were involved in helping these cubs, especially the US soldiers and their families who took the time to find CCF on the Internet and report the cubs to us. CCF is also very grateful to all the US and Ethiopian officials, and to the members of the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Program, for having responded so efficiently and professionally to give those cubs a chance at a better life.

--Dr Laurie Marker

Thursday, 15 September 2005

Nematode worm discovered in cheetahs

A nematode (Ollulanus tricuspis), previously recorded in cheetahs in a zoo in New Zealand, was found recently in Southern Africa for the first time in cheetahs resident at CCF. These pesky little guys caused quite a headache for CCF staff, affecting the health of five cheetahs over a prolonged period of time before being diagnosed by Dr. Emily Lane, a veterinary pathologist in South Africa. The diagnosis was made from stomach biopsies taken from the sick cheetahs.

Symptoms caused by an infestation of this nematode include passing undigested meat in the feces and vomiting, causing a chronic loss in weight and condition. Fortunately, following a specific deworming regime, all five cheetahs have completely recovered.

Regular deworming will not eliminate this nematode, and it does not show up in fecal floats as is passed on through vomitus. We are still puzzled as to where the infestation came from, given that all the other cheetahs on-site appeared unaffected.

We suspected that Daisy and Rosy, two of the five sick cheetahs, picked up the initial infestation when they were held illegally in very small and horrifically unhygienic conditions on a farm near Omaruru prior to being confiscated by CCF. However, their brother showed no signs of health problems and gastric biopsy showed the nematode was not present in his stomach.

A tail of two cheetahs

While testing trip cameras to be used in cheetah population estimates, CCF photographed two male cheetahs visiting the 64-hectare cheetah pen where 11 of our resident female cheetahs live.

The photos clearly showed that one of the brothers had a severely injured tail. Almost a month later when photographed a second time, the tail showed no signs of healing. Trap cages were set and the injured cheetah was caught the same night.

Dr. Mark Jago at the Otjiwarongo Vet Clinic amputated the necrotic section, leaving only about 6 cm of tail. As this cheetah had to be held in CCF's quarantine pens while his wound healed, his brother was also captured to ensure he did not leave the area.

Much to our surprise, this very healthy cheetah weighed in at a record 60 kgs, the heaviest wild cheetah recorded by CCF. Once the tail healed, both were released to resume their lives on and around CCF farms.

Predators on camera

Hair snares and trip cameras give data on Cheetahs, Leopards, Hyaenas.

CCF has "shot" several cheetahs using trip cameras and "snared" hair samples from cheetahs, brown hyaenas and leopards using lures laced with irresistible scent.

Several cheetahs have been photographed on CCF farms while testing camera traps and CCF is planning a project in the Waterberg area to provide population estimates.

In photo trapping, the animal will trigger self-activating cameras and take their own pictures. In the DNA-based hair snare sample surveys, instead of a picture of the animal, the individual identification is provided by a sample of a body hair that is snagged by a device placed in the animal's path.

DNA material is then extracted from the root of the hair and is used to identify individuals using advanced laboratory techniques. At present, DNA-based methods for identifying individual cheetahs using hair samples have not been developed, although CCF has identified individual cheetahs using DNA derived from blood samples using microsatellites.

CCF's research during the past six months has focused on developing techniques to employ these census methodologies in CCF's research study area. Once developed, camera traps could be relocated to different study sites in Namibia to provide a countrywide population estimate.

A litter for Tyger

Tyger, one of our resident working Kangal Anatolian Shepherd females, recently gave birth to a litter of handsome mongrel puppies.

The objective of this litter was to downsize the Kangal breed for working in the eastern communal areas. This is part of a program aimed at assisting the Eastern Communal Conservancies interested in developing their own livestock guarding dog programs.

Combining the hardiness of local mongrels with the guarding talent of Kangal Anatolians will hopefully produce a dog more suited to the working conditions in this area.

Placement and monitering for this litter will be in collaboration with the Eastern Communal Conservancies.

A sad story

In July, you may remember that CCF staff responded to a call from a farmer in Omitara who had collected an injured cheetah cub from a neighboring farm. The cub and its siblings had been chased by a farm worker.

The cub collected was caught after it was repeatedly kicked in the head. The cub, suffering from trauma to the head then spent three days in convulsions before CCF was contacted.

After a short assessment of the situation, CCF promptly requested diagnosis and treatment from Dr. Arthur Bagot-Smith.

The six-week-old female cub appeared to be improving under constant observation and care by CCF staff; however, a relapse of convulsions sadly brought the cub’s life to an end a few weeks later.

CCF requests fellow Namibians to not indiscriminately injure wild animals, and if cheetahs are causing a problem to please call CCF for assistance.

A Message from Dr Marker

Dear CCF Friends,

CCF staff continue to be busy in our cheetah conservation efforts. I have traveled a lot this year and have had the opportunity of sharing the values of wildlife with many people in other countries as well as with fellow Namibians.

Learning about different cultures has been very interesting, especially when it includes discussions around cheetahs and other predators and ways of reducing conflict between humans and wildlife.

During my travels, I have been continuously pleased to see how our Namibian programs have taken root in various other countries where conflict occurs with predators. Namibia's farmers have become role models for integrated livestock and wildlife farming methods.

Because of this, we are even more pleased to be working together with MeatCo and the Conservancy Association of Namibia (CANAM) in developing a market that will pay a premium price for non-lethal predator farming practices through "Cheetah Country Beef."

Economic support will continue to be extremely important as it relates to maintaining habitat for a species like the cheetah. That is why we are so pleased that our Bushblok factory in Otjiwarongo has now been opened and is producing fuel logs daily. Together, CCF's programs are helping farmers and cheetahs in Namibia as well as in other African countries.

—Dr Laurie Marker

Monday, 29 August 2005

A new Kangal puppy arrives

An Anatolian puppy has just arrived from South Africa to augment CCF's breeding programme. CCF periodically imports new males to enhance the Anatolian blood lines in Namibia and maintains a register of all the Anatolians in this country.

A big thanks to Cheetah Outreach in SA for helping to arrange the transport and selection of the puppy. The puppy is getting to know his new herd and as the goats recently kidded, has lots of new friends of the same size. Our herder, Armaas, has named the new puppy Amos.

Cat in a bag

CCF was recently called to a farm south of Otjiwarongo to collect a young cheetah caught that morning. Much to our surprise, when we got there, the cheetah was literally bagged. Being only about four months old, this little guy fit quite comfortably into a "streepsak" (feedbag).

The mom and two cubs had been seen on the road by the farm manager and some workers, and the temptation to try catch them could not be resisted. The farm workers set off in hot pursuit and one of them returned triumphant, carrying the unfortunate cub. Luckily, the farm owner agreed to make the cat’s day by releasing it where it was caught. Mum had been looking for him, as her tracks were in the car tracks left by the vehicle that "abducted" her youngster earlier that morning.

Cheetahs can hear one another calling for a distance of up to three kilometers, so we are confident the group was happily reunited.

Three Musketeers arrive at CCF

CCF was called to collect three eight-month-old cheetahs from a game farm near Karibib, caught after their mother, one sibling and two other adults were shot. All three are doing well, and are now being integrated with another group of youngsters. They are inseparable, and it was a foregone conclusion that they would become named after the Three Musketeers: Athos, Porthos, and D'Artagnan.

Many of the cheetahs we deal with are trapped in game camps. This remains a difficult problem to solve, as the only solution to predator conflict in a game camp area is to keep the predators out, a very costly exercise few farmers are willing to undertake. The result is that any cheetahs getting through the game fence are simply shot - a futile exercise, as they will simply be replaced by others.

Monday, 8 August 2005

Cheetah Country Gala

We held the seventh annual gala dinner and auction, Cheetah Country, A Celebration of Speed and Elegance, in support of the CCF's efforts to ensure the survival of Namibia's cheetahs, at the Windhoek Country Club on 30 July. The evening included a candlelit dinner, silent auction, live music, performances and awards. Hundreds of people attended the dinner which included business, conservation and government representatives. Namibia's Founding President, Dr. Sam Nujoma, gave the welcoming speech in which he spoke about Namibia being the Cheetah Capital of the world and reminded all Namibians of their responsibility to care for the earth. Click here for the full story.

Tuesday, 26 July 2005

Chewbaaka visits the dentist

On Friday, 22 July, one of the Cheetah Conservation Fund's (CCF) most important resident cheetahs, Chewbaaka, made a visit to Otjiwarongo Dentist, Dr. Dennis Profit, for an infected gum.

The day before, the famous ambassador cheetah was observed to have a swollen lower jaw, extreme salivation and tenderness to the touch. Local veterinarian, Dr. Marc Jago, from the Otjiwarongo Veterinary Clinic was contacted and arrangements were set to more closely observe the cause of the problem.

Chewbaaka, CCF's 10 year old ambassador cheetah, was orphaned when he was 3 weeks old and has been at CCF ever since. The star of many TV documentaries, the cheetah has had several visits to the dentist over the years, as a result of a malformation of his teeth resulting in what is known as Focal Palatine Erosion (FPE). FPE results when the lower molar wears an erosion in the upper palate of the cheetahs mouth and has been one of the physiological problems that the Cheetah Conservation Fund has studied over the years in their work with the wild cheetahs here in Namibia.

Following aesthesia at the Otjiwarongo Veterinary Clinic, Dr. Jago transported the cheetah to Dr. Profit's dental office were digital x-rays were taken showing a problem under the gumline. Chewbaaka was given a root canal four years prior and a remnant of the root was left, which was found to be causing the acute infection.

The root was extracted and Chewbaaka's mouth stitched. The next day, the swelling was down and Chewbaaka was back to his old self.

• Chewbaaka appears in a documentary which will be shown on the Animal Planet channel this Thursday at 6PM.

The media are always welcome to come to the CCF Centre (44km outside Otjiwarongo on the D2440 road). Please notify CCF in advance if you plan to come out for a story.

Saturday, 23 July 2005

US Fall Tour and UK in November

I will be in the US this fall for a tour of lecturing and fundraising, and will be in the UK in November. I hope that I will be able to see many of you then. Please check the International website for my travel schedule.

- Laurie Marker

Chewbaaka's Birthday

Since you heard from me last, our work at CCF has kept me intensely busy not only in Namibia but in the UK, the USA and in Kenya. On the 1st of July, we celebrated Chewbaaka’s 10th birthday and what a day this proved to be.

We were in Windhoek for the official 4th of July gathering at the US Ambassador’s house - Bruce, CCF’s General Manager; Lynda, head of CCF USA; and Susan, a CCF trustee were in attendance.

On our way home, we stopped at the veterinarian’s office to pick up a 6-week old cheetah cub, not knowing what this would mean. This type of collection is not common, but the collection of orphans certainly is.

The cub had been found with its siblings down on a farm near Omitara, the community in which I first lived upon moving to Namibia 15 years ago. A farm worker saw the cheetah family, chased after the cubs and managed to catch this one. He kicked it repeatedly and then took it to a neighbor who called CCF. The cub, suffering from trauma to the head, then spent three days in convulsions resulting in some neurological damage.

We were not aware of all of this prior to “pick-up” but after a short assessment, promptly requested diagnosis and treatment from our own veterinarian, Dr. Arthur Bagot-Smith. The cub, under careful observation and full-time monitoring by CCF staff and volunteers, has been improving daily and now looks to be on the road to health and growth. “Peep”, as she is currently being called, is still waiting for her official name. So, all names will be looked taken under consideration. Certainly, Chewbaaka’s birthday will not be forgotten.

Our other most recent orphans arrived two months ago after a farmer called, having shot the mother, one of the cubs, and two other adult cheetahs. The three remaining cubs were collected, have completed the quarantine process, and are now being integrated into our cub area where we have three others of a similar age. Cheetah cubs learn the important hunting skills at around the age of 18 to 22 months from their mother, so unfortunately these young ones can never be released.

Although our mission is to save the cheetahs in the wild, we also must provide care for these orphan cheetahs. We have 32 cheetahs in captivity right now and they have large natural enclosures in which to roam. It would be best if we could place these animals in zoos worldwide, but it is the Namibian government’s policy not to export them out of the country. Therefore, CCF is providing a good home for these cheetahs and they are part of our ongoing research, conservation and education programmes. A large portion of CCF’s budget is spent on feeding, treating, and caring for these captive cheetahs and consequently there is less funding available to devote to our wild cheetah projects. We encourage any and all of our CCF supporters and friends to help sponsor one of our orphan cheetahs.

Ideally, we hope that farmers will cease killing the mother cheetahs so that we don’t have such an issue with housing orphans and caring for them throughout their lives. This is why teaching them about ways to live with predators is so important and is the impetus behind CCF’s training workshops. We are working tirelessly with communities such as Omitara to help prevent situations like those described above in the future. We would prefer not to have to take in these cheetahs that cannot be released back into the wild, even if they recover fully from whatever injuries they may have.

We work with communal farm workers and conservancies throughout Namibia to show them how to achieve success in their farming operations without harming cheetahs through our Integrated Livestock, Wildlife, and Predator programs (left). Farmers are housed at CCF for a week’s intensive training in livestock and wildlife management, land use resource management, predator identification through spoor counts, and conflict resolution using non-lethal methods such as livestock guarding dogs.

Our training programs and other educational initiatives have been successful many Namibian farmers have ceased their practice of killing wild cheetahs. In February, over 80 people went through two 1-week courses and we have just completed three additional courses with over 100 participants. The feed back has been very positive and we are so excited to be reaching so many who we hope will spread the word and teach other what they have learned.

- Laurie Marker

A new Kangal puppy

We help farmers to keep potentially problem cheetahs away from their herds of goats, cattle and other livestock through our Livestock Guarding Dog program. At CCF, we breed Turkish Kangal shepherd dogs, and donate them to farmers when they are still quite young. The puppies bond with the livestock herds and protect them from intruders, cheetah and otherwise. This program has been a resounding success and CCF will continue its efforts in this program.

We just imported a very handsome little Anatolian puppy of 8 weeks old, Amos, from South Africa. Amos is of a new bloodline and will become a new breeding male for our livestock guarding dog program. He and our young new breeding female, Usi, are both bonding nicely to our flock of goats. Usi is the fourth generation born at CCF since the start of our guarding dog program 10 years ago. Tyger, Usi’s grandmother, has just given birth to her 5th litter, so we are now the proud family of two adorable new female puppies.

Our livestock guarding dog program has received international recognition and is being used as a model in other areas facing livestock-cheetah conflict. During the past several months, CCF has been helping South Africa to begin a more active guarding dog programs and we are pleased that we can leverage our success in this way.

- Laurie Marker

A meeting in Turkey

I have recently returned from Turkey where I presented a paper at the 2nd Annual International Conference on the Kangal Shepherd Dogs. The conference was held in the Kangal part of the Anatolian Plateau, the native area for the sheep dogs and we visited local villages to observe working dogs and learn more about the success of the breed throughout its 6,000 year history. It was a thrill to see the dogs working in their natural environment.

Farming is giving way to agriculture in many areas of Turkey so they were happy to see their dogs being of good use in other parts of the world. The conference was very and I was able to teach as well as learn, as our Namibian Kangal Anatolian Shepherd working dogs have become a pride of Turkey.

- Laurie Marker

Algeria and beyond

My travels have been extensive this year. In February I traveled to the first meeting organized in the Museum National of Natural History in Paris where a cheetah group for the North African region was formed. I then traveled to Kenya to work with CCF Kenya and Mary Wykstra’s team in their annual Kenya cheetah meeting. Mary and her team have really developed a great growing organization and their research and education programmes taking root in the country.

In March, on the way to the US, I spent a week in the Ahaggar Mountains in Algeria with several other biologists from the Sahal Saharan Interest Group (SSIG) looking for signs of cheetah and desert gazelle. Although we did not see any cheetah (here's one someone else spotted), we observed much scat at trees and learned about them from local nomadic people - cheetahs are known to catch small stock and camels.

We have identified Algeria as an important country for cheetah and they are eager to get involved in cheetah conservation. Last year, during one of our conservation biology training courses at CCF Namibia, we had Farid in attendance. We will continue to work closely with him as he takes a lead in Algerian cheetah work.

- Laurie Marker

Education is the Key

As education is so important, our efforts continue. In April we hosted an Environmental Education course for young Namibian professionals in collaboration with our partners: Smithsonian Institution, Wilderness Safaris Namibia, Environmental Education and Conservation Global and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. Twenty-one environmental education practitioners attended the 12 day course with the goal of the workshop focused on how applied environmental education could specific natural resource problems could be an effective and practical tool for solving these problems. Upon completion of the workshop, participants left CCF with the knowledge, skills, and experience needed to build effective, solution-oriented, natural resource education programmes for their specific audiences.

Education remains a key to the work that we are doing to help save the wild cheetah. And, our CCF education staff takes this message to heart as they continue to visit schools throughout the country. Already this year, over 3,000 students have been reached in our assembly school programs, with an additional 200+ students over-nighting at our environmental tented camp.

- Laurie Marker

US, UK and Brazil

I continued to travel spreading our cheetah conservation message and spent over a month in the US in March and April… was long and exhausting but quite worthwhile. From there, I traveled to the UK in May for lectures and covered the country from one end to the other.

Back to Namibia for a few weeks and then on to Brazil for the IUCN Cat Specialist Group meeting of which I am a member (see left), and a conference on the 10 species of South American cats. As I travel, I learn that our programs are a model for many cat conservation programs world-wide, as we have found some solutions to reducing the conflict between humans and wildlife. It is such a pleasure to see that we can have such a wide reaching positive influence in the plight to save the large cats of the world.

- Laurie Marker

Beef and Bushbloks

CCF is currently working with CANAM to introduce the Cheetah Country Beef eco-label. This label, on packages of beef in grocery stores, will inform the consumer that the farm producing the beef engages in cheetah-friendly farming. The idea is that people are probably willing to pay a small premium to support farming practices which help to conserve wildlife. Beef produced by CANAM will be exported to the UK and so we expect this awareness campaign to have far-reaching effects. Meanwhile, the CANAM farmers are rewarded for their conservation efforts. Left: Laurie Marker and staff of UK importer Allied Meats.

Part of CCF’s research work is to conduct a comprehensive ecological study in order to better understand predator and prey interactions on large land conservancies. Owing to the decline in populations of large herbivores such as elephant and rhino, the grassland environment that provides habitat to cheetah and its prey species is experiencing an encroachment of brush vegetation which is changing the overall nature of the ecosystem. The composition of grass species changes with increased brush density and becomes less palatable and nutritious for games species and so they avoid it. The cheetahs have fewer animals to prey on, making hunting more difficult, a situation which is exacerbated by the difficulties they have in chasing prey through the denser brush. There is documentation of cheetahs being blinded from running through areas thick with thorny bushes.

To address this issue, CCF has initiated its Bushblok project and we had the official opening of our Bushblok plant in February (right). The areas of overly dense brush are thinned out and the removed brush is chipped and taken to CCF’s manufacturing plant. Here, the chipped brush is transformed into a very dense log-type fuel which can be used as an alternative energy source. CCF received a grant from USAID to research the feasibility of producing and marketing this Bushblok product and we have discovered thus far that it is a very worthwhile endeavour if we can work out ways to transport it at a reasonable cost. Our Bushblok plant has been really making fuel logs over the past two months since opening the plant. We have lots of people visit the plant and many orders for the logs. CCF is excited about this project as it is very innovative and has great potential to open up habitat, providing more grazing for wildlife as well as increase farmers livelihoods all in the name of the cheetah.

- Laurie Marker