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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.