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Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Snakes, Puppies and Wild Cats

We are in the middle of


's rainy season and the recent rains have caused many changes. The most obvious change is that the trees have re-grown their leaves and the dull, dry grass has turned a beautiful green, totally transforming the landscape. The rains have also resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of creepy crawlies flying about! A single light left on in the evening will soon attract hundreds of lil critters including flying termites, moths, preying mantis' and flies. This has been good news for our resident geckos and bats who enjoy an insectivorous feast every night. This bug explosion may be annoying (especially when you are trying to make a cup of tea) but at least they are not life threatening, unfortunately the same can not be said of another type of animal that has become more prominent since the rains…snakes! In the space of a week 2 spitting cobras and 2 black mambas have been spotted on CCF property. I myself was witness to one of the black mambas, which I saw slithering across the road inside one of our cheetah pens. Fortunately I was inside a car at the time but coming face to face with one of the most dangerous snakes in the world still made my heart rate increase quite a bit! I watched the mamba slowly slither outside the enclosure and was very glad to see all of the 6 cats present at feeding time!

It has been an eventful week for our livestock guarding dog programme as two of our breeding Anatolians gave birth. Uschi gave birth on the 17th and her mother Tylee, just two days later on the 19th. Myself and our newest member of staff John Hurter were there for both deliveries. John has come to CCF with many years of dog training experience and is proving to be a great asset for the dog programme. On the day of his interview he brought one of our retired breeding dogs, Shades, back from the dead after he had a bad reaction to an anaesthetic procedure. Shades stopped breathing and his heart had stopped, but John new what to do and with the help of Lizzie successfully gave Shades CPR. Needless to say that didn't harm his chances of getting the job! Uschi's labour went well and all 9 of her puppies arrived into the world without any problems. However the same can not be said for Tylee who had a difficult time and needed help from myself and John delivering some of the pups and getting them to take that important first breath. She delivered 11 puppies but sadly three of those were still born. So we now have 17 puppies to take care of and I'm pleased to say that so far all of them are doing really well with both mums doing a great job.

The four wild cheetahs that were mentioned in a previous blog have had their work-ups and apart from being slightly underweight all are in good condition and have been fitted with an identification ear tag and transponder chip. The plan as I write this is to release them at the NamiBrand reserve once they are fully fit and healthy; I will keep you posted on what happens next.

I guess all that is left is for me to wish you all a very happy Christmas and a very happy new year!


Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Difficult Times

As a NGO we rely heavily on donations and sponsorships, however the recent economic climate has affected the amount of funds people can afford to give. Therefore in 2009 the cheetah will need even more help from its friends all around the world. So please don't be shy about spreading the word about CCF to your friends and family, we will need as much help and support as possible.

Despite these difficult times everyone here at CCF is continuing to do their best and as always it's been a very busy 2 weeks. Firstly I have good news regarding the wild cheetah known as 'Marvellous Marvin'. As you may recall Marvin came to us in very poor condition, weighing only 37kg. One detail of Marvin's story I forgot to mention was that he came to us with a radio collar around his neck which had been placed there by Jorg Melzheimer, a researcher for the Cheetah Research Project and good friend of CCF. When we collected Marvin Jorg was notified and was very keen to collect him when he was fit and healthy so he could give him a new radio collar and release him back where he first trapped him. Well, after 3 weeks of receiving a 3kg piece of meat and 2 vitamin pills every day Marvin reached an impressive 51kgs and was therefore ready to be re-released. So on Wednesday the 10th that is exactly what happened. Marvin was first put under anaesthetic and underwent a work up which was attended by Jorg. We were able to ascertain his weight, take further blood and sperm samples and Jorg fitted Marvin with the brand new radio collar. Marvin was given some time to recover and was then taken by Jorge to be re-released and thanks to his radio collar and Jorg's research it will hopefully not be the last we hear of him.

Lizzie, our livestock guarding dog programme co-ordinator returned to CCF from her trip to the Mara Conservancy in Kenya and Lizzie is glad to report that it was a huge success.

, the puppy that accompanied her on the long trip who will guard the local Masai's livestock did CCF proud and behaved impeccably. Lizzie and Kenya were greeted by the Mara Conservancy staff and the local Masai with open arms and great enthusiasm. Lizzie was somewhat overwhelmed by the attention but little Kenya took it all in his stride. The Masai were at first unsure how to handle their unfamiliar new companion and petted him nervously as if he may break, but with reassurance from Lizzie the Masai soon learned that Kenya was made of stronger stuff and gave him a hug or two. So it seems the livestock guarding dog programme in Kenya has got of to the best possible start and we all wish Kenya good luck for his future as a very important CCF livestock guarding dog.

We are also currently running another of our farmer courses where farmers from all over Namibia come to CCF for two weeks and learn all about effective farm management that is profitable and predator friendly.

Finally, our number of resident cheetahs went from 50 to 48 as two of our females, Misty and Rosy, were relocated to the Namibrand Nature Reserve which my colleague Chris Gordon has published a blog about so please make sure you check that out to find out why this was done and how everything went.

Thanks for reading! Matt

Friday, 19 December 2008

Puppies, cheetahs, and Happy Holidays from Laurie!

We just had a litter of nine Kangal Anatolian Shepherd livestock guarding dogs born. The mother, Ushi, was very protective yesterday, and today she allowed us to meet them all - 5 females and four males and all healthy - Ushi too! And today, we were brought four more cheetahs, a mother and 3 nearly grown cubs. They were caught near a cattle corral, suspect in catching calves. The farmer, a family of one of our employees, said that the reason they were causing problems with the livestock was that the farmers in the area had killed off all the wild game. We will work these cats up on Monday - we will anesthetize them and collect blood, measure them and give them a full health check. We are hoping to release them back into the wild shortly thereafter, if they all are in good health. So, we have our work cut out for the next several days. I hope we have a sort of calm Christmas - but one never knows… As, we are expecting another litter of puppies - they are due on Tuesday - but then they could be here on Christmas!

Best wishes to all, and remembetr we have a $75,000 Challenge to meet until 10th January. Every donation is matched one-for-one, so please be a part of this!


Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Marvellous Marvin

With so much going on the last couple of weeks I've forgotten to mention a cat we recently picked up who we affectionately called 'Starvin Marvin'. Marvin is estimated to be around 5 years old and was collected on the 31st of October from a farm in the Gobabis region. He was found in very poor condition as he had been held in a trap cage for a month because the farmer was using him as bait to catch other cheetahs.

Such prejudice towards the cheetah is still found in Namibia and is something CCF constantly tries to combat through education. Marvin was brought back to CCF and when placed on the table for his work up all CCF personnel were shocked to see how thin he was, weighing only 37 kg. After the work up Marvin was then placed into one of our quarantine pens to start his recovery. Everyday since his arrival Marvin has been fed a 3kg piece of meat (normally our cats get fed 2kg) and two vitamin pills. Slowly but surely Marvin has regained some of the weight he'd lost. Not only has he improved physically but also mentally, as for the first few days Marvin would always be found laying down looking very depressed and lethargic only moving to eat his food. However, he is much more active now, greeting his keepers by slapping his paws on the floor, hissing and spitting, which is exactly how a healthy wild cheetah should behave. It is only now that we have realised just what a big and handsome cat Marvin really is and is now known as Marvellous Marvin! It is hoped that once he has fully re-gained the weight he lost he will be able to be released back into the wild, I will keep you posted.

It was an important week for our eight month old brothers, Ngungu (Ovambo for clever) and Shunga (Ovambo for yellow) who made their public debut. The brothers came to CCF after they had been orphaned at the age of 3 months and since then have been cared for out of the sight of the public. The brothers have become great friends with our ambassador cheetah LittleC who they now see as their big brother. They were allowed to have full access to his enclosure for the first time this week and they were not shy at all about coming up to the feeding area at feeding time and posed for many a photo.

It was also a very important week for our livestock guarding dog (LSGD) programme as one of our livestock guarding dog puppies was donated to the Mara Conservancy in Kenya, the puppy who was suitably named 'Kenya' was accompanied by Lizzie, our LSGD co-ordinator, on the journey, and both received a warm reception upon arrival. ' Kenya ' will hopefully be the first of several dogs as we hope the LSGD programme in Kenya has the same success as it has in
. I will tell you more about Lizzie and Kenya 's adventure in next week's blog when I will have heard all about the trip upon Lizzie's return to CCF.

From Matt (a week ago)

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Watch the cheetah movements after release

The cheetahs at NamibRand free again and with female company!

CCF's resident cheetahs, Rosie and Misty, have joined the five boys at NamibRand as an attempt to keep them in the area. Here are news from CCF's staff Chris Gordon just back from the release at CCF camp.

Day one:

Just a quick note to say that the females (Rosie and Misty) are both collared and have been released into the 2 Ha pen. The 5 boys (in the adjacent 50ha enclosure) have all seen both of them. We darted 4 out of 5 males this morning. We didn't bother with the guy who had the radio-collar on already. All went well and they have recovered already. We will go and see what's happening once it is a little cooler here (VERY VERY HOT).

Day Two:

Just a quick update on how things are going here. We are having some problems with the satellite collars at the moment. Basically, Sirtrack and I are certain that the collars are set up correctly and were turned on at the right time. The problem I think comes from having driven 800km with the collars on. The collars now say that they are on NamibRand but they still need to catch up on past data. We shall wait and see.

We have decided to wait a little longer until the collars are working perfectly before we release. This is a little frustrating but I can get on and train Eben and Jeremiah (the Polytech Student from NamibRand) on data processing etc.

We went and fed the males this morning and we hope we might be able to release them this afternoon or tomorrow morning. It was very interesting as they had a half oryx, ate till they were full and then Lindt wondered over to the female pen, and there was lots of interactions between him and Rosie, particularly vocalisations. The other guys have definitely shown an interest too but this was the first real close-up interactions we have seen. So, that's very positive at least.

Rosie and Misty seem to be good. They had a whole Springbok carcass on Saturday morning, and they have both found the water trough. We shall feed them half a springbok carcass every other day from now on.

Day Three:

Very interesting release here this morning. We went to release at about 6.30 in the beige hilux (the normal feeding bakkie that the cheetahs run towards). Cheetahs were nowhere to be seen. We then found them all hanging around by Rosie, who was chirping and flirting with the boys. They spent about 10 minutes by her, and then moved onto Misty. During this time, there was a slight altercation between Lindt and Kia, but nothing serious. Friends for six years and it all goes out the window when a woman comes on the scene! Eventually they moved round and we opened the gate for them to come out at 7:20. We closed the gate and then disappeared off up the koppie to watch from there. They proceeded to spent an hour and fifteen minutes walking the fenceline with the girls pen, briefly saw some springbok, who also saw them. They watched each other from a respectful distance. At about 8:30, they all decided it was a little too hot and so have already crashed under the tree by the gates to the pens. I'm pretty sure that they will still be here when we head out this afternoon.

So, I guess the females are doing their job at the moment. We will let them out into the 50-Ha pen this afternoon, and hopefully that will encourage the males to move a little bit.

Day Three - Afternoon:

Well, an interesting afternoon here. There is lots of rain, especially all around the mountains and at the Keerwedeer camp where we are. We set out at about 4:00pm to find the males still under the same tree. We moved back up onto the koppie to watch. They soon got up and started moving around the 50-Ha pen to the waterhole on the other side. They drank and then decided that was enough exercise for now and so slept for another 20 minutes.

The rain started coming, which prompted them to rise and head east. After about 1 km, they startled a large male oryx (probably not the wisest first target) who started running. One of the cheetahs took after him and caught up with him very rapidly. The other four were in hot pursuit. The Oryx then decided to turn and face them. They pulled up about 20m from him and stalked their victim. Eventually, Kia (we think) was about 3m from the oryx who charged at the cheetahs. Cat and Mouse continued for 10/15 minutes before the cheetahs decided this was going to be a little more difficult and energetic than they first thought. Sleep was therefore on the cards.

Very exciting news indeed and all five of the cheetahs seemed really up for it. We hope that this mindset will continue tomorrow morning and who knows, they might actually choose a target that is a little easier i.e. one of the many springbok calves that are hanging around.

All in all, an excellent first day. We left them by the 50-Ha pen sleeping. Right where we want them!

Day 4 morning -

We found the cheetahs this morning still resting at the same spot as last night. After about 20 minutes, they started heading off east towards Boskia (where they went last release on the first morning). We followed at a distance and managed to see another attempted hunt. Promising indeed as they seem to be keen to try. Technique was definitely lacking however as the stalk was minimal before they decided to break cover and sprint when they were still about 100m from the springbok. Too much of a headstart given and they soon realised there was no chance. They then approached an oryx, and here we witnessed something quite bizarre. The oryx proceeded to follow the cheetahs, about 30m behind them for almost a kilometre.

The cheetahs crashed about 2 km from the mountain and I'm sure we'll find them here this afternoon. They are due to get fed if they don't hunt this afternoon, so we shall try to bring them back towards the pen area. Promising but also a little frustrating.

As for the females, they are now in the 50-Ha pen.

Day 4 Afternoon

We headed out this afternoon and struggled to find them as they were in an area with very few roads, halfway between Keerwedeer and Boskia. Eventually, we got a visual on the cheetahs and decided to approach on foot. From a far, it looked like they were playing with something.

Cue Trumpet fanfare…

They did it. Two days in to release number two and they caught and killed something! We got there to find some skin from a young oryx. There were a couple of slightly distended bellies and Kia was limping slightly. We investigated the scene and then found a leg or two dotted around and the tail before finding the blood patch where they had killed it. We then followed the tracks to get a clear idea of what had happened. I feel like a CSI! This is what we think happened…

The cheetahs were lying under a tree in the middle of the day. They had urinated on the tree a few times. At approximately 4pm, a herd of Oryx including a few young must have passed close by and the cheetahs went straight for the hunt. The cheetahs sprinted on the right hand side of the group and caught up with one young oryx after 130m. We think Kia killed as a) Kia was the one who was attempting to hunt yesterday and this morning and b) Kia was limping. They obviously managed to suffocate the oryx, who was probably only two weeks old. We could see from the soft underside of the hooves (although the front had hardened) that the individual was not very old.

The cheetahs then started moving towards Boskia, probably for a drink. When we left them at the end of the day, Kia's limp was looking better.

We also fed Rosie and Misty today. A very very good and exciting day this end. A major step in the right direction…

More news to come soon from Chris.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Introducing Matt Cleverly - Research Associate and Cheetah Keeper

Hello, my name is Matt Cleverley and I am fortunate enough to be one of CCF's cheetah keepers and this is the first of my regular blogs about the ongoing efforts of CCF's dedicated staff to save the wild cheetah. First let me give a brief introduction to CCF for those of you reading who may have only recently heard of us.

We currently have 50 resident cheetahs on site here that will stay at CCF for the rest of their lives as they are unsuitable to be re-released back into the wild. Why I hear you ask? Well there are 3 main reasons. The first is when a cheetah is orphaned before it reaches maturity, with the majority of mothers having been shot by farmers who have lost livestock or game to cheetahs. The first year of a young cheetah's life is crucial; it is during this time that it learns essential life skills from its mother such as how to hunt, when to hunt, what to hunt and what dangers to avoid. Without these skills a cheetah would not survive for long in the wild. Sadly this is the story for the majority of our resident cats.

The second is when a cheetah has become too habituated to people, which means if released it will venture too close to human settlements and come into conflict with farmers. This applies for one of our newest cats called Omdillo, who before coming to CCF was held in captivity for many months and has now completely lost his fear of people. The third reason for a cat being unsuitable for re-release into the wild is when it has suffered an injury that will prevent it from hunting effectively. In January we collected Chester, a young cheetah who had suffered a very bad leg break, fortunately our veterinary team managed to mend his leg and he has made an excellent recovery. However, his leg would not be able to cope with the extreme stress of a full speed chase and would stand a very high chance of re-breaking.

It is of course very sad that these beautiful animals have to remain in captivity. However, they are guarantied a very happy and healthy life in our large enclosures and they still have a very important role to play in cheetah conservation. They inspire and educate visitors who come to see them and have helped in numerous scientific studies. An exciting new addition to the CCF research centre is a genetics lab. Our resident cats will hopefully help answer many of the intriguing questions about the complex relatedness of wild cheetahs and aid in future conservation efforts.

95% of Namibia's cheetahs live on farm land and often come into conflict with farmers who view them as a threat to their livestock or game. CCF goes to great effort to educate farmers about management techniques that can reduce predator problems and will remove cheetahs from their land if they continue to be a problem. We also have education and research centres here at our base near Otjiwarongo which receive visitors and researchers from all over the world.

So I've given you a very brief overview of CCF, you can learn much more about our history and other projects on this website, so please go explore after you have read this! So what has been happening lately? Well every week here at CCF is eventful but last week has been more eventful than usual with the release of two black Rhino onto our land! I hope you read the posting about these rhinos.

On the education front, we currently have 16 international conservationists on site who are attending one of our month long conservation and biology courses. Whilst here the students will learn all about what it takes to conserve wild species such as the cheetah. These students have only been here a short time but have already gotten to experience front line cheetah conservation in action when they accompanied CCF staff to rescue a female cheetah with 4 cubs from former Namibian President Dr Sam Nujoma's farm in Otavi. The mum and cubs were brought back to CCF where we carried out a 'work up' which involves putting the cheetah under anaesthesia and taking blood samples, skin samples, measurements as well as attaching an identification ear tag and transponder chip. During the work up it was discovered that the female cheetah's teeth were in poor shape with some missing or broken. In a situation like this CCF takes the cheetah into Otjiwarongo for a visit to the local dentist, Dr. Profit. This always guarantees to turn a few heads when regular visitors turn up for their dental appointment only to see a cheetah lying in the dentist's chair! Dr. Profit discovered a bad infection in the root of where one of her missing teeth was. The root was removed and one of her blunted canines was sharpened to ensure she will have the best chance of killing her prey. She was then placed back with her cubs in one of our quarantine pens where they will stay until the female has fully recovered form her dental surgery and gained enough weight. Mum and cubs will then be taken to one of our dams and released, which will no doubt be one of the topics of my next blog, which I very much hope you will check out.

Until next time, Bye!

Friday, 7 November 2008

Rhinos at CCF! A Message from Laurie Marker.

Rhino LoadOctober 30th was a very, very exciting day and a dream come true for a few of us, because black rhino were returned to their former range within the CCF Reserve lands. A 3 ½ year old female was delivered by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism Animal Capture Team and released within the 12,500ha (31,000 acre) CCF Rhino Reserve. The young female is the first of six rhino that will be placed at CCF as part of a government Custodian Program.

The female was born in Etosha National Park. She wandered off the park about three weeks ago and the Ministry thought it better to relocate her to CCF than return her to the Park (which has a robust population of black rhino). Rhino release at CCFShe appears to be healthy and, as a young female, will probably not object to being alone for awhile before other rhino arrive (though there is some chance a second Etosha-escapee will arrive shortly). She is fitted with a transmitter in her horn which will facilitate our monitoring her movements. Black rhino are browsers and should thrive on the acacia and related bushes on the Reserve. They drink at least every second day. While the Capture team veterinarians were a little concerned that she was dehydrated when captured this morning, upon release this afternoon she immediately drank from and waded through water in one of the dams where she was released.

The rhino reserve is a collaborative effort involving CCF and neighbors Carl Hilker and Harry Schneider-Waterberg.

We are so very excited and wanted to share this with you. Thanks to all of you for helping CCF - the cheetah's helping the rhino will have huge rewards for both the species' future.

I am attaching a couple photos of the exciting day!!!!! Wish you all were here to be a part of this historic day.

All the very best,


Sunday, 14 September 2008

Eucating Farmers and Visitors

Visitors, farmers, volunteers and students are always welcome at CCF, and we have certainly kept busy on this front.

With the support of AGRA and the NAU/NNFU President's Committee, CCF has completed five major farmers' training courses in integrated livestock and predator management and financial management for over 100 emerging and re-settled farmers. We have also hosted nearly 200 students, including undergraduates from the Polytechnic of Namibia and international university groups from Rhodes, Emory and North Carolina State University.

We recently conducted the first of two international courses. We hosted more than 30 international conservationists from cheetah range countries for a two-week course on Integrated Livestock and Predator Management for extension officers and a month-long course on conservation biology and teaching CCF's programmes. We are eager to host these workshops and share our model cheetah programmes to expand cheetah conservation throughout the cheetah's range. These workshops are in cooperation with the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the Cheetah Regional Strategic Planning partners and the Smithsonian Institution's National Zoological Park (NZP).

To our delight, the number of visitors to CCF continues to increase, and in the last four months alone, we have welcomed more than 2,250 international visitors, many of which enjoyed the special pre-booked activities we offer, such as the Cheetah Run or the Little Serengeti tours. In addition, the luxurious Babson Guest House has been in great demand. For information about our activities and the Babson Guest House, click here. We thank our Education staff, headed by Laura Linn, which includes Gabrielle, Steven, Michael, and Pricilla, and we welcome Esther Lenders who is training our staff in visitor relations and hospitality.

Goodbye to Zanta.

Sadly, our oldest breeding female and one of the founders of our dog programme, Zanta (at right, six years ago), had to be put to sleep due to age-related illnesses. She was 13 years old and had produced five litters and 54 litters number of puppies. Her daughter, granddaughter and great granddaughters are carrying on her legacy.

On a happier note, CCF staff members Liz Lester and Gebs Nikanor continue to work with the farmers to monitor the working dogs. All the dogs are doing well, although one was re-homed due to a lack of proper care by the owner. At the same time, research and treatment on several dogs that have been diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma on the tongue has continued, with Dr. Axel Hartman from the Otjiwarongo Veterinary Clinic taking the lead. The new Kangal puppies from Holland are growing fast, now six and eight months old. One of our older breeding females was just bred, so we can plan for puppies in two months.

Annual Waterhole Count and other Research News

During the past three months, CCF has made significant progress on cheetah population estimates using camera-trapping methodology. After finishing a camera-trapping survey 200 km south in the Sandveld Conservancy, CCF's ecologists, Fabiano, and Chris started another three-month survey around the Waterberg Conservancy.

In June, we hosted a Bayesian Networks Workshop (at right) for our Namibia cheetah group. The workshop was facilitated by Prof. Kerrie Mengersen and Ph.D. Candidate Sandra Johnson, from Queensland University of Technology's School of Mathematical Sciences in Australia. The collective team from CCF, the Namibian Ministry of Environment, and International Zoological Research of Berlin worked for three days developing a model that best defined the factors that influence the cheetah population growth and decline in Namibia. Group Photo

The first weekend of August brought together more than 80 volunteers to conduct our annual Waterberg Conservancy 12-hour waterhole count. CCF alone had 22 waterholes, where volunteers were stationed to count whatever wildlife appeared during the 12-hour period. Assisting with the count for the third year were Earth Expedition teachers from Miami University along with our Earthwatch volunteers, CCF local and international interns, and Peace Corps volunteers.

We are also very excited with the development of our new Applied Bioscience Conservation Genetics Laboratory and the arrival in May of post-doc Dr. Anne Schmidt-K√ľntzel from Dr. Steve O'Brien's genetics laboratory in the United States. The lab will be set up to process scat (faecal) samples for DNA extraction and analysis. Many thanks to Michael Helms for his help in making the conservation genetics lab a reality through his continued communications with Applied Biosystems Inc. ABI)!

Newborn cubs at CCF and news on the five released cheetahs.

Our recent days have been hectic. We have been feeding newborn cheetah cubs around the clock. A farmer shot a very pregnant female cheetah, due to his dislike for cheetahs, and found the stomach moving. He opened her up and found four cubs. Unfortunately, one did not make it; however the other three are doing great so far.

An entire year of planning came to fruition in July when we released five of CCF's cheetahs into the NamibRand Nature Reserve. The five male cheetahs, Ra, Kia, Mushara, Lindt and Cadbury, were in a holding pen for a week, after spending four years at Amani Lodge's 50-hectare camp. We selected this group for the historic release, because they were somewhat used to people and they had shown an ability to hunt game that found its way into their camp.

Seeing them take their first steps to freedom was amazing. Their new home consists of open plains full of springbok and other antelope, with high mountains bordering the plains. Upon release from an enclosure where they spent a week to acclimatize themselves to the area, all five cats moved swiftly up to the top of the closest hill and surveyed their new home. From there they moved southeast to spend their first few nights in the foothills of the mountains. We have been monitoring their movements by radio telemetry and satellite tracking technology, as well as by vehicle and on foot. We will continue feeding them until they begin to hunt on their own. After the second day, they came for food, and have each consecutive day, and chased their first springbok after their third day of freedom. They seem at home in the mountains but daily are making sorties into the plains, and we hope they will hunt soon! The release will be a part of a UK Channel 5 TV programme that will air in October.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

CCF Re-introduces Five Cheetahs into the Wild

One cheetah goes back into the wildA year of planning came to fruition this past weekend when Cheetah Conservation Fund took five of its cheetahs to the NamibiaRand Nature Reserve in the south west of Namibia boarding the Namib-Naukluft Park. The six year old male cheetahs - Ra, Kia, Mushara, Lindt and Cadbury, were housed in a 50 ha camp at the Amani Lodge, near Windhoek, for the past three years. (Photo: Dr. Laurie Marker from Cheetah Conservation Fund and Olivier Houalet from Amani Lodge release one of the cheetahs into their new temporary camp.)

The Cheetah Conservation Fund research team worked on the group of cheetahs at Amani Lodge prior to their transport to Namib Rand on Sunday. The cheetahs were anaesthetised for sample collections including blood for overall health, genetics. Sperm was collected and frozen and the cheetahs underwent endoscopies for a collection of gastric biopsies. These cheetahs have been a part of CCF's long-term research studies.

The team that worked on the cheetahs at Amani Lodge before transport to NamibRand.

Cheetahs feeding at temporary holding penAt NamibRand, the cheetahs were placed in a two hectare holding pen where they will stay for the next 10 days. A soft release is scheduled for the 29th of July when the pen will be opened for the cheetahs to go free on their own. The cheetahs will be followed closely using radio and satellite tracking under the direction of the Cheetah Conservation Fund research staff. (Photo: Cheetahs feeding on a springbok carcass on arrival at their temporary holding camp at NamibRand Nature Reserve.)

CCF and Namib Rand have worked closely with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism to plan this release. All five cheetahs have been radio collared will be followed using satellite radio-telemetry technology. Dr. Laurie Marker, CCF's Executive Director said "re-introductions are not simple. It's very important to closely monitor the behaviours of the individual cats to ensure their health and adaptation to their new environment. CCF has been conducting research on re-introductions and this is the third project. There is not a lot of suitable habitat due to the extent of land under livestock production and habituated cheetahs need large uninhabited areas. NamibRand is ideally suited for this long-term re-introduction project."

This is the first time a structured re-introduction is being attempted. Previous attempts to re-introduce cheetah into this area have not been successful due to various reasons including unsuitable animals and the lack of an intensive, long-term monitoring program. The cheetahs chosen for this release are likely to settle into the area as they are habituated and will allow access to tracking. In addition, these cheetahs, having lived in a large camp and have been successful in hunting game previously and it is expected that they will successfully adapt tot their new environment.

One aim of the NamibRand Nature Reserve is to restore the balance of the natural ecosystem. Up until thirty years ago there were cheetah in this area of the country. However, livestock farming practices have eliminated cheetah in this region. Since the establishment of the NamibRand Reserve, game populations have increased substantially, providing adequate prey for these cheetah. Nils Odendaal, CEO of NamibRand Nature Reserve said "we are thrilled to finally be able to release cheetah on the Reserve, as it has been an ambition of ours for several years to restore cheetah to the area, creating a holistic ecosystem."

The collaborative team of CCF, NamibRand, Amani Lodge and the MET is hopeful that cheetahs can be restored to this area to once again play their key role in a balanced ecosystem. This historic event is being documented by Gecko Productions from the United Kingdom for a Channel 5 TV.

(Photo: The team working together on this cheetah release, including Cheetah Conservation Fund and NamibRand Nature Reserve research staff, Amani Lodge and Gecko TV productions.)

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

From one of our volunteers

Many people ask us what it is like to volunteer at CCF. We are fortunate to have volunteers all year round, coming from all walks of life, lending their skills and passion to help us carry out our work, either in Namibia or Kenya. Here is a short essay written by Liz Karch, one of those incredible people that keep us going. For information about volunteering, please visit our web page, and click on Volunteer.

Come, Come, Come!

Back in the late 70s, I remember watching the show "Fantasy Island" where people lived out their fantasy for a week. I used to wonder what my fantasy was, but don't think I really came up with one. That was then, this is now.

In October 2007, thirty years later, I traveled to the Cheetah Conservation Fund and lived out my fantasy. For two weeks I worked along side a team of dedicated, cheerful and talented people. Our little group pulled into CCF on a rainy late afternoon - the first of the "little rains" had arrived. And so had we. The very next morning, we filed into the Hogwarts yard with a group of farmers and walked to the end corner. We were told the rules for the cheetah run: Stay together … Don't bend down. The three cats stood at attention, the lure started to move and they were off! Everyone watched them intently; they completely ignored us.

But not all of the 46 resident cheetahs felt that way about us. When we appeared at Bellebeno, a 158-acre enclosed area for some female cheetahs, the cats would hear our trucks and meet us at the entrance. They knew we had food and were anxious for us to drive down the dirt road yelling "Come, come, come! Come, come, come!" We would stop the truck and then throw each a chunk of meat.

After feeding the Bellebeno girls, our group had the privilege of bone clean-up. A couple weeks before the little rains came, the cats were temporarily relocated and the staff carried out a controlled burn. Due to the high probability of a lightening strike starting a wildfire, the area had been set on fire. Everything was scorched and black. This helped us find the bones left over from weeks of daily feedings. We would return looking like we had foraged through a charcoal jungle. At night while washing my hair, I would smell like Burnt Bellebeno. How I wish I could smell that now.

Center Feeding was a bit cleaner. Here the cats are kept in smaller, fenced-in enclosures with a separate feeding pen. First we would go in with scoopers and buckets to pick up bones and any waste while the cheetahs hissed and growled and spat from the other side of the fence. Next we'd bring in and line up the bowls of meat. Then we would leave through the gate and open the guillotine. The hungry cats would race in, scoop up their chunk of meat and take off. Some of them, though, would politely eat from the bowl. Those were great photo op moments.

I brought along my new digital camera (about the size of a deck of cards) and kept it in my pocket at all times. You'd never know when that three thousand dollar picture (as one staffer called it) would appear. In my case, I was standing outside the pen area as the other volunteers went in to clean. Four male cheetahs were stalking up to the fence toward me - hissing and growling and spitting and stomping. As if on cue, they lined up perfectly with their hackles up. Click! It nearly drove me wild.

Driving is a way of life at CCF: trekking out to Bellebeno, checking cheetah traps and camera traps and rain gauges, conducting game counts and looking for spoor tracks. Riding down a dirt road - and they're ALL dirt roads! - on the back of a truck, with a 360 degree view of the Namibian landscape, is exhilarating. But the jewel of it all is the Big Field, also known as "Little Serengeti." It was mostly here that we saw an abundance of wildlife: red hartebeests, kori bustards, warthogs, black-backed jackals, and a variety of antelopes. The Bellebeno farm is also home to giraffes and zebras. And everywhere there are birds, chipmunks, rabbits, snakes, and other small creatures like lizards and spiders.

Yet the cutest little animals by far are found right at CCF. We were lucky enough to have arrived weeks after Tylee and Ushi - two Kangal Anatolian Shepherds - had their litters of puppies. Those energetic and adorable puppies would run up to you, pull at your shoestrings and nip at your ankles. It wasn't hard for these future livestock guarding dogs to steal my heart.
My emotions ran the gamut. I got teary-eyed while walking into a cheetah necropsy in progress, and eventually leaving as the sight of an adolescent cheetah was too much for me. Some nights while looking up at a clear and starry sky, tears of pure joy rolled down my cheeks. I experienced tremendous sadness seeing a very old livestock guarding dog, in really bad shape, that had been returned to CCF. Petting Chewbaaka, Kanini and littleC - and listening to Kanini's thunderous purr - was amazing. Sheer exhaustion felt so pleasurable after a hard day's work. Never in my life have I worked so hard and enjoyed it so much.

There was, of course, administrative work to be done. My official assignment was to enter the feeding logs into an Excel spreadsheet. I also worked in the Clinic doing filing, and spent a couple hours in the Center's gift shop straightening up and restocking the shelves. Each and every task, no matter how small or how challenging, was cherished.

Volunteering at CCF was one of the greatest experiences of my life. When I think back (and I often do!) I am so thankful to have been there. Was it a Fantasy Island? In some ways it was. But more than that, it was an amazing opportunity to help save the wild cheetah just by being there. And I can't wait to do it all over again.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Our latest Notes from the Field available online!

It has been a long time since our last blog. We have been so busy! But finally, Dr. Laurie Marker’s most recent Field Notes are now available online by clicking here!

Learn about our latest batch of eight puppies donated to farmers, or the new puppy just arrived from Holland — Annual physicals were conducted in record time on all of CCF’s 47 non-releasable cheetahs while training two vets from the Kenya Wildlife Service — Two male cheetahs captured nearby contributed to the Cheetah Genome Bank — Farmers, schools, volunteers and visitors have kept us busy as we continue to teach them about cheetah conservation — and the capture of another cheetah and her cub gave us an opportunity to teach a Polytechnic group of agriculture students how one farmer’s failed predator control caused another livestock loss. So much has been going on!!!

Find out where Dr. Laurie Marker will be during her May trip to Europe and the US –where she will receive two prestigious awards, and read about her February travels in Cameroon and the U.S. Learn about our latest Run for the Cheetah success in Chicago with 700 runners, including CCF Namibia’s Senior Research Assistant Matti Nghikembua.

So much is happening at CCF. We hope you enjoy the reading.


Sunday, 16 March 2008

Finally back home!

Hi!I just want to thank you all! I finally made it back home a week ago. What a journey. But, one day after getting home was more than a full week's worth already.

Got back on Sunday night and as night was turning dark we were all in cheetah pens trying to move cheetahs that were not supposed to be together.

Saw littleC this morning and he has grown by a 1/3rd bigger. Chewbaaka has a sore foot - so he sat at the door this morning crying with his paw held up - a cut on his toe.

Worked with our Vet team on 2 of the 5 cheetah workups - vet team working like a well-oiled group - 2 vets- 2 retired nurses (volunteers), University of Florida students, 2 vet techs, 2 reproductive physiologists - the rest of our CCF team and students
Had spitting cobra next to bedroom window in mid-morning - Bruce caught it - got spit at in eye - (he's OK thankfully) - snake has been released - far from house.

Pouring down rain - roads over-flowing in Otjiwarongo.
Met all our new puppies - many left for new homes on Saturday - more going in the next days - still a full litter with mom - so cute!
Met Spots, our new livestock guarding puppy from Holland - cute - big! (picture right).
And got filled in on all happening here -
New tee-shirts in gift shop!
New camera traps out in new farm area.
2 wild cheetahs hanging around the Centre, dorms and our house.
Grass taller than my knees!
Lots of new goat kids and sheep lambs.

OK - its green here - and we have cheetahs coming out of our ears!

Thanks for all your help and appreciate all your help in our collective efforts to SAVE the CHEETAH.

Laurie Marker

Sunday, 24 February 2008

New Kangal Puppy Arrives from Holland!

Last week Simone and Michael from Spots Holland delivered an exciting new gift to CCF. Spots, a Kangal Shepherd dog, was given to CCF by generous supporters, Abdullah and Mustafa, who take great pride in their dogs and in helping the cheetah. At nine weeks old, Spots is being raised as CCF's new breeding male. He will bring new genes to our Livestock Guarding Dog breeding program. While our current breeding male Amos is doing a great job, we look forward to this new addition. As you've read, late last year Amos produced two litters and early this year two more. Our staff is currently on the road busily checking up on the puppies from the first two. We are proud to have placed 4 litters this year with eager farmers, yet we still have many more on the waiting list. We appreciate your continued support in our conservation programs and helping us to raise these guarding dogs. Through this program we are showing that cheetahs and humans can live together!

Since 1994, CCF has placed more than 275 dogs as livestock guardians. These dogs provide a method of non-lethal predator control that protects the farmer's livelihood while conserving predator species.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Cheetah Surgery

Yesterday was a long day for one young cheetah here at CCF. Through a series of events, he arrived a month ago underweight, in ill health, and with a bad fracture of the distal femur, just above the knee. Since he was about15 months old, this meant his growth plate was primarily affected, but happily the stifle (knee) joint itself was unaffected. Mother nature, being the ultimate healer, formed a lot of scar tissue and bone callous around the fracture in an attempt to stabilize it even though it was not in the correct anatomic alignment, while staff at CCF worked to get the cheetah strong enough health wise to withstand a surgery to repair the leg.

The day finally arrived when the cheetah was declared fit for surgery, and the local veterinarian was ready after ordering special plates and instruments to repair it. Everything went like clockwork from getting the cheetah "Axel" into his transport cage to anesthetizing him at the vet. All the vital statistics were very stabile during the 6 hour long procedure, and he had IV fluids and medications for infection and pain/inflammation control post-op.

The surgery itself was difficult due to the amount of scar tissue and bone callous formation around the old fracture, Mother Nature had worked overtime! Muscles had contracted to counteract for the change in bone positioning after the initial injury, and all required gentle retraction and stretching in order to replace the femur into a proper anatomic alignment. After several hours this goal occurred with a resounding "sthwopp" sound. After that, life was relatively easy aligning the plate on the lateral side of the fracture, placing the screws and then after flushing the area with sterile saline closing the muscle and other tissues in such a way as to support the joint and prevent the incision from opening. Since a cheetah is unlikely to stand quietly and allow suture removal without anaesthesia, sutures need to be placed under the skin and the top covered with insect preventative. Radiographs showed a superb alignment of the fracture and his recovery went very smoothly. After returning to CCF, he stayed in a quiet capture crate overnight at our clinic here.

Great cheers were had all 'round when he took and ate a small meat chunk with his medication the next day, and then upon release to a small enclosure where he will continue to recover with medication for the next 10 days. Further updates will occur as he continues to recover over time. As to his long term outlook he will become one of the permanent residents since he cannot return to the wild with this injury. However, he should have good life quality in running about here and playing with his sister.

Written by our visiting vet Kris Kingery.