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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

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