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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