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Friday, 24 April 2009

NamibRand Boys - update as of 23/Apr (Day 136)

It's been an interesting time for the boys, and as you can see from the map, they've moved around quite a bit.


Last week they gave us a bit of a scare, when they started following the trail of the collared female.  Those of you who also monitor her progress will know that she decided to walk out of the reserve last week and, presumably because she was in heat at the time, our boys attempted to follow her.  They got to about 2.5 km of the reserve boundary, but after a prolonged rest in the hot sun, James was able to chase them back northwards where they have remained ever since.  


The following morning a couple of the boys attempt to climb a tree, with less than spectacular success, and that afternoon they appear to start exploring more of the area (Lindt in the lead), ranging close to the eastern mountains.  A few days later they again return to this area, but fortunately show no inclination to try and scale them.


After spending what is for them an unprecedented amount of time away from our females, the boys finally returned to the pens and proceeded to spend several days close by.  Ra still does most of the courting (with Misty), although the boys have shown some considerable interest in Tisha and Shanti, although that interest isn't returned in the slightest and those two stay well away from the fence.  Unusually however, the boys have stopped fighting amongst themselves.


It's been sometime since we found a kill site, but the boys are remaining in good condition, so they must still be hunting as needed. 


Yesterday the boys drank from the waterhole close to park HQ (and James' residence), before heading towards the mountains for much of the day.  In the evening they again returned to the females' pen.



Thursday, 23 April 2009

NamibRand female - update as of 22/April

The weekly download has come in, and it makes interesting viewing.  It appears that our lady went no further south than we had her last week.  Instead she turned around and headed up into the Nubib mountains to the East of NRNR.  She is currently on a farm called Nubib, which is home to a guest lodge specialising in low budget accommodation and hiking trails.   We believe that they are probably cheetah friendly, or at least not particularly cheetah unfriendly.     Rob


Monday, 20 April 2009

NamibRand female: 4-14th April

Note. The below email has been in my outbox for nearly 24 hrs now - hopefully today the network will be more functional. Most of you are already aware of the situation with the female now anyway, but maybe this map can help visualise it. I have reduced the usual map size and quality to ease the sending.

I've just received the data for the past seven days from the collared female, and have to report that she has left the reserve. As you will see from the map she walked south from the Losberg, and the latest position data we have places her 11 km outside the reserve boundary and apparently continuing to move away. James reported a few days ago that he had spotted her cubs operating independently close to the reserve border, but managed to persuade them to move back inwards.

It will be another week before we can retrieve any further satellite data, but I will send that out as soon as I get it. Rob

Our annual report now available!

See what we have been doing during 2008. Our annual report is now available, in full color, here:

Greetings to all, Patricia

Sunday, 19 April 2009

NamibRand boys - Day 117-123

The boys seem to have completely settled into their new environment now. They are continuing to spend most of their time close to the penned females, but regularly range out to hunt and have made three oryx kills during this time (see map). The last one was a large male some 1.64 metres in length. Ra and Misty are still the most consistent pairing, although all of the boys regularly vie for attention. As yet there has been no significant interactions with the new females; Tisha and Shanti. Rob

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Latest on CCF scat dog!

Dear Friends,

Hi. I want to share the latest news about our new dogs helping Cheetahs at CCF.

In February we got a new member of our CCF ecology team, a 2 year old Border Collie, Finn. I wanted you to meet Finn and know more about our new cheetah friend! Finn came from Mid-Atlantic Border Collie with Chris Bartos, one of the Philadelphia Zoo curators, after looking actively for the right dog for CCF's research. Chris is a search and rescue dog trainer and she and I began making this plan about five years ago when we first met at the Philadelphia Zoo. After selecting Finn, Chris trained him for the next two years to sniff out cheetah scat (poop), so we can use his help in Namibia to track individual cheetahs through DNA.

Search dogs have proven to be a highly effective tool in wildlife studies. And we felt that the use of a trained dog could be of immense benefit to cheetah researchers, but it is critical to first quantify and calibrate their efficacy through methodical trials so that this technique can be utilized to maximum effect in the field.

CCF is testing the efficiency of search dogs in detecting cheetah scat, with the ultimate goal of using the abundance and occurrence of cheetah scat in the wild as an index of population density and distribution. Significant recent developments in the field of DNA analysis mean that scat samples can be effectively utilized to extract DNA and provide some estimate of population size in an area. This data will prove invaluable in developing the most appropriate conservation strategies and management policies for cheetahs on Namibian farmlands.

Both Chris and Finn learned the tracking ropes at a detection-dog training program in Seattle. The location of the scat is recorded with a GPS device and is then collected. Geneticists analyze the samples to determine what the cheetahs have eaten and can extract DNA to identify individual cats, helping determine each cheetah's range.

Our project starts with an 18-month study and involves three stages: controlled trials in large, natural enclosures; utilizing the extensive cheetah holding facilities at the Cheetah Conservation Fund research base in Otjiwarongo, Namibia. field tests around CCF's research area where known and unknown cheetahs range; and subsequent DNA analysis of scat collected in the field.

Finn and our other search dog in training (Isha, a year old Anatolian Shepherd) are now detecting cheetah scat as they are taken on repeatable transects through the area. We are then able to determine their scat detection rate and any evident biases. Scat from other sympatric carnivores on the Namibian farmlands, such as leopards, caracals and jackals, will also be collected, however the dogs are trained to only tell us when they find cheetah scat by sitting when they find it.

After the performance of the search dogs has been evaluated and calibrated in these controlled conditions, our field trials will be initiated, combined with spoor stations (which employ camera traps), to determine the viability of this technique on the Namibian farmlands. DNA will then be extracted from the scat samples collected from the transects in our Applied Biosystems Genetics Lab. Significant recent developments in the field of DNA analysis mean that scat samples can be effectively utilized to extract DNA and provide some estimate of population size in an area.

So, I just wanted to share all this with you as we are very excited!!

Thanks for all your continued interest and help with spreading the word and helping us in our work to save the wild cheetah.


CCF scat team (photo, L-R, Dr. Laurie Marker, John Hunter, Isha, Chris Bartos, Finn and Dr. Anne Schmidt-K√ľntzel).

Exciting News!

Tuesday, 7 April, 2009.

Well, the boys did almost next to nothing today. They may have eaten last night but I couldn't see them well enough to determine for certain or not. I also gave Tisha and Shanti a day off of torment but will resume again tomorrow as I attempt to feed them again. But I have got a story for you.

A NamibRand Tuesday Morning Adventure

I awoke this morning with the sense that something different may happen today. You know you sometimes get that? Well, I wasn't let down. Shortly after finding the boys in pretty much the same area I left them yesterday, Marcus, one of the workers from Keerweder pulled up alongside me in his Land Cruiser. In broken English and my limited Afrikaans, he told me he had been trying to reach me on the radio. I checked it and found out that someone had turned the volume all the way down. Must have been Andrea, the German student, last night. Marcus then explained he had seen two Cheetahs, un-collared, running along the fences just after the cattle grate between the Wolwedans road and Toekoms. If I wanted to catch them I'd have to hurry he says.

I hit the road fast, very fast, and gunned it up the road until the two were in sight. If they carried along this fence South like this, they would keep going until they reached farmland. Farmland of the unfriendly sort. I cut in front of them and they immediately stopped. One just lay in the grass and the other bolted back North. I got out and the second one took off North. Perfect. I just had to chase the back into the reserve and all would be lekker. Easy right? Not so much.

The first one was nothing but dust in the distance, She (I'll explain later) made it to a river bed where the fence on the Eastern side was bust and went through, only to re-emerge a few minutes later and cut across to the other side where the fence is not jackal proof, and slipped through easily. One down. The other one would run for a hundred metres and then drop into the grass and hide. I would approach, clap my hands, shout and he would run off again. This went on four or five times until I approached once and he wouldn't get up. I could tell he was tired and male, obviously scared but too tired to be chased further. Distressed I got a little closer to coax him up again, he ignored me and just lay there, head up looking at me and panting. I then saw that he had a silver CCF ear-tag and couldn't be much older than a year and a half. They must be "Mom's" cubs finally out on their own. They looked good but were going the wrong way. I didn't know what to do so I radioed the warden. Waiting for him to arrive, I was watching the Male and looking out for signs of the female that had made it across to the reserve, just in case she came back for him.

Next, the worst possible thing happened. I was passed on the road by one of these HUGE overlanding tourist trucks. He started running South again at such a speed he was out of sight before I could even get back to the truck, let alone get the thing to start and turn it around. I went after him but the roadside turns into a ditch and even with Paul on the back we couldn't find him. Mike, the warden, then called on the radio to ask if it was ok to approach and I turned around again. As soon as I did, I saw him come out of the bushes a couple of hundred metres back and cross over to the other side of the road. I started forward again, chasing him North once more, telling Mike to hold fast in case he got a fright again. I managed to get him down to the fence where his sister had gone through. He laid down again just shy of it and getting a little vexed by now, I jumped out of the car, had a quick chat with him and through the fence he went.

I met up with Mike and the other workers and we went back up the road to make sure that wasn't his sister that had crossed through again. I was certain this wasn't the case as I had taken good note of his tail colour and face. We saw no sign of any other Cheetahs and headed back, happy to have them back in the safety of the reserve.

I hope you enjoyed my story. I'm basically just putting off doing the dishes. Have a great evening and I'll let you know if/when we come across them again. Thanks,


Saturday, 4 April 2009

NamibRand Boys - Days 111-116 (29/3 - 3/4)

On March 30th we believe that the boys made a small kill, possibly a springbuck but have been unable to directly confirm this. Their behaviour suggests however that they are not presently hungry despite our not having witnessed a kill since the two Hartebeest back on March 24th.

On the 31st they headed out onto the pan, but did very little aside from sleeping out there before returning to the girls pen the following night. As April begins, they spent their morning courting the girls, although our latest additions (Shanti and Tisha) show no interest in coming down to the fence to greet them. That evening Mushara spots a group of zebra and starts stalking them, the others soon follow with Kia taking over leadership for the hunt. The zebra see them but don't appear concerned, continuing to stroll towards a nearby waterhole. Close to the tail end of the herd, Kia and Ra go to ground, apparently waiting for the zebra to turn around and return to the pan, but Lindt loses patience and attempts to run one down with Cadbury and Mushara by his side. The zebra scattered and the three boys quickly gave up the attempt. Shortly thereafter all five boys returned to the girls pen.

Two days later they succeed with another kill, but as yet James has been unable to get close enough to identify it.

As regards the map, you may notice the purple line on the right of the picture. This is the reserve boundary, and will appear on all maps from now onwards.


Friday, 3 April 2009

NamibRand Mother - 25/3 - 1/4

The collared female has now moved away from Jagkop and as of two days ago was spending time as the Western base of the Losberg.

I have just returned to CCF after a few days in NamibRand, and I really appreciated the hospitality of the people there. Thank you folks!


Wednesday, 1 April 2009

NamibRand Boys - Days 103-111

We have all our technical problems resolved now, although we are still trying to fill in a few holes in the data from mid-March. I've attached the current map, which takes us up to March 29th.

On March 28th, we added a new temptation for the boys, in the form of two new, younger, females; Tisha and Shanti. They are currently in the 2 ha pen, but will be moved in with Misty and rosy in the 50 ha pen in a couple of weeks time. Tisha has been fitted with a satellite collar, and Shanti with a simple radio collar. It is hoped that these two girls, currently about 2.5 yrs old, will be able to be released into NamibRand after approximately 2 months in the pens here. Currently they are very shy of people, and have also apparently not spent any time courting the boys, although they did watch them covertly this morning (April 1st) from the far corner of their enclosure.

Our boys are still spending most of their time either with Misty and Rosy, or lurking close to the fence and trying to attract them over. They have also started ranging Eastwards more often, although when we drove over there, they spotted us watching them (from about 1 km away) and strolled over for a look. On March 24th however, James made a very exciting discovery when he found the boys feeding from a pair of Hartebeest (a mother and calf). This means that for the first time, a second member of the group has made a kill! Up to now, all kills have been made by Kia. There is no way to know which of them brought down the second Hartebeest, but hopefully we'll be able to witness them in action again in the future and see who else is getting involved.

Either way, this was a substantial feast, and should keep them fed for many days.


NamibRand female - 11-25th March

As you can see from the attached map, the collared female is ranging very far to the West of the boys at the moment, almost out into the dunes of the Namib-Nauklaft desert. Interestingly, we received a report of a Springbok kill site in the vicinity of the rocks you can see under her latest data point. The site was seen from the air during a scenic flight, so no close examination was possible, but the assumption was made that it was a leopard kill as one is known to be in the area. Given her proximity to the site however, it seems more likely that she brought it down.