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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.