Friday, 31 December 2010
We aimed to dart all four cats at the same time but in the morning only Toblerone was successfully placed back in the pen from whence she came. In the afternoon however, thanks to James’ expert marksmanship with the dart gun, Chanel, Nestle and Hershey were taken to join Toblerone. This brought the Bellebenno release project to an end after 118 days and many successful kills!
With the cats now safely in a pen, when the day comes for the big move their keepers can easily usher them into a trap cage and then into the transport boxes. It will be a very exciting day and one all of us here at CCF are thoroughly looking forward to. We will of course let you know how it goes.
Happy New Year, and thanks so much to all CCF supporters for making this and other important projects possible!
Tuesday, 28 December 2010
The prospects of a safe introduction looked good but just to be safe our cheetah keepers were armed with sticks so they could separate the boys and put a stop to any fights that broke out. The guillotine between the two enclosures was opened and the Scars entered into the wild males pen. Things started off a little tense as the two sets of males engaged in a stand off. It was Chuck who broke the ice first and slowly walked over to the Scars. His reward for his bravery was a smack in the face by Phil. Chuck backed off and the stand off resumed. However, things quickly improved and Chuck and Crosby were allowed to come close to the Scars and partake in some mutual sniffing. After 20 minutes things had calmed down and Chuck and Crosby were allowed to lay with the Scars. Geno has always been the shyest of the Wild Boys and decided to stay in the corner. Since this first introduction the six males tolerate each other but are far from best friends. At feeding times there is still the occasional squabble, with Phil being the guiltiest by picking on Geno. We are confident that given time all six cats will become more civil with each other and hopefully form a close bond.
The two 6-month old cubs (a brother and a sister) that arrived recently have been moved to a different enclosure due to the female’s mischievous tendency to climb up the side of her pen. Therefore to be extra sure the little Houdini wannabe does not escape, she and her brother were moved into a pen designed for holding leopards, a pen that has one major difference….a roof! Upon release into their new pen the female wasted no time in checking out her new surroundings and spent a lot of her time looking up for a possible exit. Given time, the two newcomers will settle down and realise that they are safe here.
Happy New Year to all! And please remember that the Year-End Challenge is still on for three more days. Every donation received through 31 December will count twice!
Saturday, 18 December 2010
As of 10:30 PM on December 14th, she was 800m north of the C19, and 18 km east of the NRNR border on the same latitude as southern end of the Bushman Koppies.
Tuesday, 14 December 2010
|Earthwatch volunteer checking a camera trap (archive photo)|
All four female cheetahs participating in the Bellebenno re-introduction research are doing fine. We are following them a little less intensively now, checking on them early mornings and also in the evenings (as these are the times they are most active). With Ryan and Aymeric sadly having come to the end of their internships (they will be very much missed), James, Matt and Kate are now taking the lead on checking on the cats. Matti and I have been analysing some of the their movement data; throughout their released period they have managed to move around almost the entire area of the Bellebenno camp and are moving on average about 3.5 km a day, mainly in the early hours of the morning and early evening.
We have seen HiFi around the centre a few times in the past week or so. We will be setting a trap to try and catch him to change his collar in the next few days.
As part of CCF's Biodiveristy Project, we have finished the 3 months of monitoring the harvested and non-harvested plots. We are now busy sorting through camera trap photos and hope to begin analysis soon.
We are continuing to check the fence line daily and recording new and reopened holes. With the recent rains, some of ground has softened up making it easier for a few more holes to be made underneath the fence. It does, however, still seem that most of hole-digging animals (warthogs and porcupines) are using the swing gates!
|Leopard caught on camera!|
|Cheetah mother and cubs in Osonanga.|
Happy Holidays to everyone, and please don't forget we have a Challenge through the 31 December. Remember that your donation will make an enormous difference not only to the cheetah but to its entire eco-system!
Wednesday, 8 December 2010
|Earthwatch Volunteers assist Dr. Laurie Marker and the CCF Clinic staff with a wild cheetah work up.|
|During cheetah checkups, the CCF staff measures them and takes samples that provide important data about the cheetah's biology and health.|
With best wishes,
The CCF Clinic Staff
Tuesday, 7 December 2010
|Aletris Neils with the Eros Primary School's fourth-grade class.|
|Gail and Aletris are presented with donations raised by the Eros Primary School 4th graders.|
Monday, 6 December 2010
Also last week we received a call regarding a mother and two cubs on a farm just outside Kalkfeld (the neighbouring town to Otjiwarongo) suspected of catching small stock. The farmer is very conservation minded, and called CCF for assistance relocating this mother and cubs. CCF staff members Matti (senior ecologist), James (game ranger), and Kat (ecologist) assisted the farmer with trapping both cubs, but the mum was proving quite difficult. Over the next 3 days James and the farmer were in constant contact in regards to whether the mum was caught or still in the area. Unfortunately it appears the mum has abandoned the two cubs, and both cubs were brought back to CCF. The cubs are about 6 months' old and received a full health check up three days ago. Our friendly farmer is still trying to find the mum, and we are all hoping he succeeds.
Cheetah purrs to all, and please remember we have a challenge this month. Every donation until 31 December will be matched up to US$200,000, dollar for dollar, by a group of dedicated supporters. A cheetah sponsorship is a wonderful Holiday gift that keeps on giving for an entire year with two updates on the sponsored cheetah, as well as our Keeper updates on this blog.
Monday, 29 November 2010
|Tylee with CCF's vet nurse Rosie and vet Anais.|
|Two of Tylee's pups placed last month.|
CCF's Livestock Guarding Dog programme now includes four breeding dogs (three females and one male) who will continue to carry out Tylee's successful work.
Dr Anais Herbert, DVM
Friday, 26 November 2010
|Preparing Firat for the procedure|
|Rosie and Anais operating on Firat|
|Rosie monitors Firat after his successful surgery.|
Dr Anais Herbert, DVM
Wild Mum update: Dr. Profitt, Otjiwarongo’s local dentist, was VERY pleased with how well the wild mum’s recent tooth removal is healing. He said in a human mouth it would take another two weeks for the progress she has made over the past 2 weeks here! CCF staff was very excited to hear this good news, as it means she is likely to be released once a satellite collar can be placed. We are expecting to place the collar at the end of the week, and set them free!
Joining the wild mum and her two cubs will be two females that have been with us since March, Nandi and Tina. The two females were deemed too young back in March for release on their own, but were old enough that they would have learned proper hunting techniques from their mother. You might remember from one of our newsletters that one of the females had to have a toe amputated after it got caught in a gin trap and we have had to wait for the wound to fully heal. The photo shows the vet wrapping up the leg after the surgery.
During this time, CCF staff have been feeding the girls game carcasses (some caught and uneaten by our released cats in Bellebenno), and keeping their distance to help minimize habituation to humans. Now the girls have grown and the female with the amputated toe has fully recovered and is walking and running normally.
The rains have begun for the season, and all the cats are thoroughly enjoying the cooler weather. Normally a day for a cheetah involves lying in the shade and enjoying a nap but when the rains come it stimulates them to run around and play with each other.
Happy Thanksgiving to all in the US! And please don’t forget to Vote for CCF to benefit from Kruger National Park’s visitor fees.
Monday, 22 November 2010
Day 70: Tuesday, 9 November 2010
As the girls rested, Aymeric and I did a successful giraffe survey on Shilo and then later an unsuccessful one on Fiona. Fiona is very cautious around people and ran further away into the dense bush when we approached her. Since our presence was affecting her behavior, we decided to abandon that survey. Aymeric and I also found a small white hair in snare trap #2 next to the main black gates; collect sample!
When we returned to the girls, Chanel was already eating. As more shade was cast over the carcass, the Chocolates then came to feed as well. We observed Chanel’s usual aggressive behavior when the other three approached, but they all alternated feeding and by 18:30, all four were resting once again. The girls’ signal remained in the same general area of the carcass so we left for the night. They are definitely starting to show their independence.
Day 71: Wednesday, 10 November 2010
When they finally went to rest under the shade of a bush, Aymeric and I did hair snare checks (negative results) as well as one giraffe survey on DIB, a sub-adult male and one of my favorite giraffes in Bellebenno! After he finished feeding we got closer to him and he walked around a tree, hiding and then poking his head out the side to watch us! It was hilarious and charming.
We went to CCF to work on data entry until 17:00 and then back to Bellebenno. The girls were not where we left them, so we started tracking and found them about 150m away on a kill! They hunted down a young adult male eland and were feeding on it. After the girls moved away, we inspected the carcass and we were impressed by the size of the prey, hunted probably during the hottest time of the day! 80m later we stumbled upon another kill! It was the same age and size as the first one, but this was a female eland. We knew our girls killed it because of the marks on its neck. Meanwhile, the girls rested in a shaded area, minus Toblerone who got separated while walking in the dense bush. Once Toblerone began vocalizing they all met up back at this kill #2 and stayed near it. We left the cats lying down by 19:15. Despite our disappointments about not witnessing these 2 kills, it was still a very productive day. It is refreshing to know that the girls are capable of killing older eland and not just calves, which are not a year-long commodity. If these girls move to another farm or lodge, we know they can handle taking down larger prey.
Day 72: Thursday, 11 November 2010
We found the girls this morning around 06:10 feeding at kill #2. Aymeric and I witnessed the typical feeding behaviors of these cats: Chanel growls, hisses or slaps any of the Chocolates who gets too close; Hershey allogrooming every cat; Nestle’s submissive yet invasive nature that usually ends up getting her swatted on the head. Soon enough, the hot sun ruined the feeding and the girls took refuge in the shade. Throughout the day, they moved one more time (~60 more meters) to find the best shade, and slept the rest of the day! Meanwhile, Aymeric and I did our routine checks on the hair snares (nothing, no hair) and we also did a giraffe survey on Geoffrey.
Day 73: Friday, 12 November 2010
Later we checked the hyena snares and the results were negative but we did manage to get good results for the giraffe project on Bullet, and adult female. It was a great day and the rain thankfully cooled everything down the rest of the afternoon. We left the girls as they continued eating in hopes that we would find them there tomorrow.
Day 74: Saturday, 13 November 2010
The cats moved once more during the day to find better shade 100m away, until ~16:00 when they began to stir again. The clouds began to rumble in, getting darker and then the thunder started. It cooled everything and the girls started to walk, occasionally chasing warthogs en route. They led us to detour road where they started to fall asleep as sprinkles of rain came. All around us were sheets of rain and claps of lightning, but it only drizzled where we were located. Later the cats moved into the open bush and flopped beneath the shelter of some bushes. It was a refreshing day and night. Aymeric and I were surprised the girls never made it to Sukkel waterhole, but we think they had enough fluids from the carcass to supplement their thirst. We collected scat samples from both Toblerone and Hershey for later analysis.
As usual in Namibia, the weather patterns are nearly impossible to predict, but it was very comfortable having the cool protection of the clouds, saving us from the sun!
Day 75: Sunday, 14 November 2010
Day 76: Monday, 15 November 2010
Our giraffe project is finally done! Our last subject to watch eat was Fighter, an adult male missing his left ossicone (horn-like protuberances on the heads of giraffes and other animals). Later we met with James to report on the girls’ progress. It was a great day, despite the gloomy weather.
Friday, 19 November 2010
Jaimee F., SI – Today was my first day feeding the Bellebenno girls, and it was quite an experience. Being so close to the cheetahs you can appreciate what magnificent animals they really are. Matt and Ryan were great fun to go along with. Listening and taking in both their knowledge and experience was a privilege. Watching the cheetahs hiss and spit at you while entering their enclosure is an experience (N.B. From a truck!) but the best part of all was riding along in the back of the car while cheetahs run along side and behind awaiting for us to drop them their feed. What an enjoyable experience and great way to start the day.
|Feeding at Bellebenno (archive photo - P. Tricorache)|
Rosemary J., EW – My first experience feeding the cheetahs. My overall impression is that much thought and knowledge has gone into the determination of the diet for each individual cheetah. It certainly seems that the prolonged welfare of the cheetahs is a primary aim of the program. As a volunteer I thoroughly appreciated the opportunity to do some of the actual work required to maintain the health of the animals. Being able to observe behaviour at close quarters was an added plus.
Ed P., EW – Oh, wow! I got a second opportunity to do some cheetah feeding. My morning started working with a team constructing an area designed to snare hair samples of passing through animals to support research analyzing those samples (mainly hyena). In addition to feeding the cats after my construction work I observed first hand some of the guard dogs with a flock of goats. The dogs approached the cheetah feeding area and one of the cats moved off in reaction to the dog’s approach. Each day of my stay thus far has provided experiences of the real life and effect of this great program. The relationship between the cats and their ‘keepers’ is most amazing.
Craig L., EW – Have spent part of these days feeding and caring for cheetahs at CCF. Most of the time the person in charge was Kate, sometimes assisted by others. Kate was always very informative about what the purpose of our activities were and was able to answer a variety of questions about the cheetahs as well as the ecology of the area. She always demonstrated a special interest in the well-being of the cheetahs and showed compassion for the animals. Although our feeding and cleaning activities at times brought us very close to the cats, safety was always a priority. A wonderful experience. I learned a lot and will take the knowledge with me. Thank you!
Barbot (Bobbi) McN., EW – I have been a cat lover all my life. This was my first experience up close with any big cat. The cheetahs are amazing and truly beautiful. I have been planning to come to CCF for two years and now I finally made it to Namibia and to CCF. This is an experience that I will never forget. I will follow the progress of CCF and will do my best to offer support whenever possible. All of you are fabulous with your care and support of these truly fabulous animals. The research done here will greatly benefit the cheetah. Thank you for allowing me to be here and to participate.
Craig L., EW – Another wonderful morning with the cheetahs, begins with assisting Matt and Kate with a run of the cheetahs chasing a lure, and then cleaning and feeding. These cats are beautiful animals and are very well cared for. The knowledge of the staff and interns is extensive, and all are generous with their knowledge of the animals and the ecology. A once-in-a-lifetime experience I will always remember. Thanks for the opportunity to be here.
Jude S., EW – This was my first experience of being even remotely near cheetahs – and that there’d be so many – feeding all the CCF cats with keeper Matt at the helm, what a brilliant experience watching how the staff dealt with them on the ground outside of the van, and respect showed by the cats and the humans. Being able to see the cats hiss and meow, then stomp their feet to demand to know why you are there – or more likely to tell you to get on with the show as they have seen all this before. The site of the cheetahs racing after the van – what a privilege this was (and hopefully will be again?!) - the breath of knowledge from Matt. This was all something I will remember (I have one picture!). Thank you CCF.
Helen N., EW – An entire morning with cheetahs will be the highlight of my travel experience. To see them display the beauty and grace of their magnificent body while running after a lure in a display of the speed they can use to catch their prey is exciting. Then going with Matt and Jaimee to the field to feed the ‘outside’ cheetahs gave me a display of other behaviours as hissing and the sweet meow when hungry, and either protecting their food or in a hurry to grab a meal. As a nurse I enjoy the means utilized to dispense medication and give treatment to the leg lesions. I am especially impressed with the involvement and dedication of the young staff, and their knowledge of the cheetahs’ behaviours.
Monday, 15 November 2010
Tiny Rohini has become more comfortable approaching the ‘feeding spoon’ during cheetah runs. She always delights our visitors with her beautiful running display. Now she has been entertaining people with her ‘charming’ demeanour. She is still hesitant around groups of people, but is very food motivated. Whenever she sees Harry and Hermione sitting, receiving treats, Tiny Rohini decides she doesn’t want to miss out on the fun. Instead of sitting patiently like Harry and Hermione, she will slink over to the spoon, hiss/growl, take the food, and run a few steps away before starting the whole process over again. Her feisty character is quickly gaining her favour among all who meet her.
Saturday, 13 November 2010
Ryan and Aymeric are still working on data entry whenever they are back in the office. They have continued with the giraffe feeding ecology project when the cats are sleeping. So far they have over 20 focal samples (which is a really good effort).
Student Intern, Sanne Kreijtz from van Hall Larenstein University in the Netherlands has been working on an ongoing project burning hair samples that have been taken from wild cheetah scat. The hair is extracted, washed and burnt into a plastic slide and then analysed under a microscope to see what the cheetahs are eating.
CCF's 2010 Biodiversity Study is coming to a close. The study has involved CCF Bush harvesting the acacia tree in areas with the aim of improving the habitat for the cheetah. The process has to be monitored closely to minimise any negative impact or loss of biodiversity in the areas. We are looking at how the local birds, reptiles and mammals, especially wild cheetahs, respond to the newly harvested area.
Finally, we have Earthwatch volunteers here for this week, so the next two weeks will be quite busy with game counts and data entry. They are always such a good bunch of people. One of them has, amazingly, been on 42 previous Earthwatch expeditions!
Best wishes from Namibia,
Thursday, 11 November 2010
The collar seems to have improved this week, and we have seven points for the last seven days. I should have given us fourteen, but at least it's better than last week.
For the first time in several months, I've had to add an extra farm to my movements map, this time it's Montana. Our lady started off where we left her last week on Zaries. By Sunday however she'd moved further east onto Zaries -Oos and stayed there through Monday. Yesterday she ventured for the first time, south onto Montana, apparently following a dry riverbed. As of 04:36 this morning however, she appears to be retracing her footsteps north, although she is still just on Montana. At that time she was 2 km south of the C19 and 22 km east of the NRNR border on the same latitude as the Keerweder Pan and Jagkop waterhole.
NB: Cheetahs are naturally wanderers. In Namibia, they have the largest home ranges of any cheetah population studied to date. CCF’s research has found that cheetah home ranges often cover over 10 farms (averaging 8,000 ha each), and even greater for females with cubs.
Saturday, 6 November 2010
I'm in Namibia and LOVING it! Laurie and Bruce are most gracious and I feel the heartbeat of the cheetah ... all around!
During a medical exam, it was discovered that she had a serious infection with her upper left canine and needed immediate treatment. After an x-ray it was discovered the tooth could not be saved with a root canal and was extracted. The dentist took exceptional care and local children watched in wide eyed amazement as the dentist carefully closed the area with about four sutures.
|CCF veterinary nurse Rosie Glazier monitoring the anesthesia of the cat as local children look on.|
Friday, 5 November 2010
|CCF's dog handler, Carolyn Whitesell (with Isha) discussing the techniques used to train dogs to sniff out scat.|
|After successfully finding cheetah scat, Finn sits waiting for his reward.|
The students are currently on a trip through South Africa and Namibia studying the relationship and conflicts that exist between human development and conservation.
That’s all from Namibia.
Wednesday, 3 November 2010
This summer we got a phone call from CCF USA Trustee and supporter, Polly Hix, who had found a German breeder, Kristina Peez of Sivas Guardian Angels, willing to give us another puppy. Polly brought the German female puppy (Aleya) in September to join our two breeding females (Cazgir from the SPOTS foundation in the Netherlands: 2 years, and Hediye from Turkmen Kangal Dogs in the US: 1 year).
|The puppies with Laurie Marker, Patrick Couzinet and CCF's Livestock Guarding Dog Handler Carolyn Whitesell.|
These three new Kangal puppies provide new bloodlines for our successful Livestock Guarding Dog program. As a rare breed, CCF is one of the few places in the world using these dogs for what they were breed to do for the past 5,000 years in Turkey, protect livestock from predators. The Kangal breed is an amazingly intelligent breed of dog and we are very excited with these recent puppy donations and look forward to working with even more Namibian farmers through our Livestock Guarding Dog Programme.
Cheetah purrs to all,
Tuesday, 2 November 2010
All our cats this past week continue to be in good health, and adjusting to the rising temperature.
This week we welcomed back Laurie, and as you already heard from her, it would not have been a complete welcome home without a call from a farmer from the Hochfeld region with three cheetahs ready for pick-up. Click here for the full story.
Meantime, our captive cats by the centre also have some interesting new neighbours, a pair of adult male warthogs! Normally staff members would chase off these males to avoid fights between the cats and the pigs, except neither cat nor pig seem bothered by the close proximity to one another. Eland girls Sandy, Dusty, Blondi, and Samantha can be seen lounging in the shade just 20 meters from the two males only to pick their heads up to watch the boys forage, before placing their heads back on the ground and continue their cat nap. Even young, feisty Tiny has become accustomed to her new friends, and only watches them from afar.
We will try to send some photos!
Saturday, 30 October 2010
We thought that they were adult males from what the farmer had said. The farm is on the other side of the Waterberg near Okakarara area. He was a very nice farmer and willing to talk about behavior and cheetah removal and livestock losses. We had a long afternoon, collecting the cheetahs, and getting back to CCF well after dark. I think Gail, Rick and Kat learned a lot as to how to give questions to farmers and how to get not only answers but cooperation and friendships.
The first and second cheetahs were young males – about two years old. They were good weights, and in very good condition. We collected sperm from them, however the first male had underdeveloped sperm and his brother had a bit better sperm that we did freeze in our genome resource bank. The third cat was a female, and that's when then we realized that the three were a mother and her nearly adult male cubs. She was in good overall condition, however, she has a broken canine tooth and her feet were raw from the capture cage.
They have been put in our quarantine pens and we have made a dentist appointment for the female for next week. We hope that they will be ready for release again in the next couple weeks. We are eager to see how the pads on her feet heal when we work on her tooth next week.
Thursday, 28 October 2010
|An Earthwatch Volunteer assists with checking camera traps.|
Swing Gates are going smoothly, not many holes have been spotted which means the animals have been using them.
I think that’s about it for now.
Tuesday, 26 October 2010
The other three puppies will be placed on suitable farms in the near future.
Monday, 25 October 2010
|EW Volunteers and CCF's Keepers with Ziggy the Zebra|
|Blonde and Smart|
Thankfully Ziggy was well constructed and, though missing one leg and a head, is still standing! With a little bit more work, Ziggy2 will make another appearance later next week!
Friday, 22 October 2010
Day 38: Friday, 8 October 2010
Today started with an invitation from Chanel. She was on the side of the road bordering Frans Indongo property, sitting at the base of a termite mound and as we approached her, she just watched us before casually and slowly walking into the bush, following the Chocolate sisters. It was a refreshing sight to witness at 6:15 and even more refreshing to know that our presence does not seem to affect their natural behaviour too much. The cats walked Aymeric and I for about 2 hours before deciding to flop down in the shade. There were some scent-marking behaviours such as intense neck rubbing performed by Hershey, Chanel and Nestle. We also saw Toblerone scratch the base of a tree. Other than this, the cats slept in the shade all day, occasionally moving only to find more shaded areas.
Giving the cats more space now, we met up with CCF’s Senior Research Assistant and responsible for Ecology, Matti. We spent a couple hours with him and he taught us many different species of acacia trees. We requested for the giraffe surveys we will be doing in the near future. The botany lesson went very well and we learned a great deal. We even tried some pre-mature acacia gum for an Acacia leckii plant, but it was too bitter. Matti said that this was due to how early before the rains it was.
Later, we checked on the cats who have moved to a different tree. We marked their new location and left for lunch. Afterwards, we checked on hyena hair snare #1, but there were no tracks or hair caught on the barbed wire. When we got back to the girls later they have moved again! We found them about 10 minutes later and they began to move. They led us down the road near Frans Indongo’s property and eventually back into the bush. This area was nice and open. When the girls found a warthog family of 3, they sprinted towards it. The Chocolates would chase, and then be chased as the two adult warthogs protected their one and only piglet. Chanel was not too interested in the matter and just remained watching the scene from afar. When the Chocolates retreated, the warthogs would rejoin until Toblerone would chase after them again. She seemed very insistent on getting this warthog piglet, possibly because they have not eaten in four days. Usually when the girls chase warthogs, they do so in a playful manner, but today seemed different. Toblerone went after the piglet at least 4 times, but each chance led to being chased off by the defending adults. She kept persisting and finally we heard intense squealing. Hershey ran towards the noise only to be passed by Toblerone with the piglet in her jaws. The adult warthogs kept busy by trying to ward off Nestle and Hershey. As Nestle was being chased by one of the adults, Chanel and Hershey joined Toblerone, who had made a perfect cheetah kill. I was proud of Toblerone and happy the girls are feeding. It is also beneficial that they got a warthog because they are overpopulated here in Bellebenno. The girls started to feed and about 5 minutes later, Nestle joined, but there was no room on the carcass for her, so instead she flopped about 2m away. It was not until Hershey finished that Nestle got the opportunity to feed. The girls ate surprisingly peacefully, especially considering how small the carcass was. I found this amusing because before when they down a large zebra they reacted so aggressively, despite the fact that there was more than enough room for all four to feed. Now there is a miniscule piglet snack and they manage to devour it without any slaps or hisses! These girls still amaze me! Unfortunately, we had to leave them that night as they ate due to how dark it was getting. This warthog energy supplement is great for the girls and will possibly give them enough energy to make a larger kill in the next couple of days!
Day 39: Saturday, 9 October 2010
New record! Due to some problems with our tracking equipment, we did not manage to find the girls until around 7:40! We went to as many as 15 or so points attempting to find the girls, but we did not get any signal from anywhere for any of them! There were no tracks to follow either. It was not until we went back to the same spots more than once when we finally got a signal. We were near Sukkel Dam when we found all four cats walking down an older-looking road. They ended up taking us directly to the waterhole, which is somewhat predictable the day after eating. While on the way, I noticed what appeared to be fresh leopard spoor, but our attention was diverted to Toblerone, who was sprinting after a duiker! She ran right past our vehicle at top speeds! The other three cats had no clue what was happening and turned around to watch the chase. But once she was out of sight, they continued towards the waterhole. Chanel and Hershey began to drink (photo) and Nestle was close behind them. Toblerone, meanwhile, was unsuccessful with the hunt and was returning back to the others calling at the waterhole and now all four were drinking. Then one by one they flopped in the nearby sand. This was great because this is Aymeric’s and my favourite spot to watch the cats. As they rested, a large oryx came by and the girls did not budge. It got within 15m of our cats and they were not interested at all. But once they oryx caught sight of us, it froze then ran away. Later, a vehicle from CCF’s farm Jan Helpman approached. The girls, unfamiliar with the extremely loud car, ran into the bush; we followed them about 1km until they found refuge from the sun under the shade of two large bushes. And here they remained until about 17:45. We left the girls a lot in the meantime because it was so hot; we knew they would not move. We helped Kate feed the Bellebenno cats, we cleared another area for hyena hair snare #3 and then we checked #1 for any hair: nothing. But when we returned back to the cats, they seemed hot as they laying there with their mouths slightly opened, panting in the shade. When they got up, the cats led us back to the road near Frans Indongo. On the way we saw Chanel spray a tree and also witnessed Toblerone scratch the base of a tree. Once on the road, the girls would flop then walk into the bush then back to the road and flop again. They also occasionally would inspect the fence and look through it. At one time, Nestle ran along the road as she looked to the other side of the fence. But once again, they all met up and flopped. We left the girls as Chanel, Toblerone and Hershey all laid by one another in the road with Nestle flopped in the grass about 30m away from them. Later that night we got a signal from them; a very good indicator that they were nearby.
When we drove back to camp we saw lots of wildlife: zebra, eland (photo), oryx, warthog and even two honey badgers drinking at Hog’s Heaven (the best sighting of my life!!!) and even an African wild cat; a wonderful closing to Day 39 at Bellebenno.
Day 40: Thursday, 10 October 2010
It was a busy day for me, but not so much for the cats. We found the girls at 6:30 walking down the road near Frans Indongo. We watched as Toblerone head-rubbed a tree and scratched another with her front claws about 1m from the base of the tree. But oddly by 7:30, the cats already found a place to lie down and started to fall asleep! They got back up around 9:00 and moved to find better shade. Then Nestle and Hershey left Toblerone and Chanel and found even more shade about 20m away from each other. Around this time, we met with Matt to gather some supplies as well as exchange Aymeric for Kat, a CCF ecology staff member. I showed her the cats, which she has not seen since the release! We also met with Alan, one of the first EarthWatchers to ever come to CCF in 1996. He was completely amazed with the transformation and evolution of CCF. Back then there was only one farm and one cheetah (Chewbaaka), now there are eight farms and 61 cheetahs!
Kat and I checked the fence lines for any warthog holes or re-opens (we found quite a bit!) and then we checked on the brown hyena hair snare #1 but found not a single track. We discussed the idea of possibly baiting or scenting the trap in the centre to force the hyena to go under the hair snare! Meantime, the cats slept all morning and afternoon. It was not until 18:30 that they followed Chanel’s lead of getting up and walking. They led us to some open bush and would walk, pause and scan the area, then continue to walk. At one point Chanel and Toblerone chased a small group of adult eland. Chanel got within about 5m of them, but Toblerone was much further behind! Unfortunately, they did not get anything… Later Nestle made a quick attempt to chase down some oryx but also with little success. It was getting dark, so Kat and I retreated to camp. We returned at about 21:00 to get a signal for the girls and found them sleeping in the middle of detour road! We let them be and went back to camp again. Today made me slightly worried about the cats. They slept almost the entire day! This behaviour was to that exhibited just before we had to intervene and feed them the 2 red hartebeest legs… Having to supplement their diet 40 days after their release is like taking two steps back; I would rather push the girls more because we all know that they know how to hunt! I hope that the vast amount of rest they got today will supply them with enough energy to make a significant kill tomorrow. The 40th Day of Freedom was represented with resting and sleeping. Today also marked day 1 of phase 2 of research into wild behaviours that should be seen in captive cheetahs in zoos.
Day 41: Thursday, 11 October 2010
After yesterday’s slow pace, Kat and I were hoping for some excitement. The girls have to be hungry because their last two kills (since 4 Oct 2010) have been a duiker and a warthog piglet, not very extravagant meals. So we found the girls on the road by Frans Indongo’s land and quickly after they went roaming into the bush, with Kat and myself following closely. They walked us almost all morning and would occasionally flop for a few minutes before getting back up. In most instances, the Chocolates get up quickly after Chanel’s lead! Around 9:20 the girls were all flopped in some sand shaded by a large tree. This is when I pointed out to Kat the oryx mother and her calf ~50m away from the cats and us. Within seconds Nestle’s ears perked as she got up and began to stalk. Then she runs forward, followed by the other girls as well as Kat and myself. As we ran to catch up, you could hear the groaning of the calf. We then saw Hershey biting the back of the neck of the oryx while Nestle, the first one to run, was sitting (then laying) in the shade of a tree! Then, before us, Chanel and Toblerone began to hunt down the mother oryx, as Hershey was already on the calf! They both chased after the mother for about another 50-70m! The attention was back on Hershey who was still awkwardly attempting to kill the calf. Suddenly with a quick yank of the head, the oryx calf was free from Hershey’s jaws. The young calf (~5-6 months old) charged at Hershey, who backed off and then turned to face the calf. As fast as she was thrown off, Hershey lunged herself back at the face of the calf! At this point, Toblerone came back to help her. With Hershey on the calf’s head, Toblerone tripped the oryx’s hind legs and now it was doomed on the ground. A minute later, it appeared that Hershey and Toblerone switched spots. Now Hershey was at the calf's rear and Toblerone had a proper neck-bite (strangulation hold) although she seemed to have a difficult time finding a comfortable position and had to re-adjust her grip several times. Eventually Toblerone retreated for some rest in the shade while Nestle got up and began to feed alongside Hershey and Chanel. The cats seemed outrageously hungry! They ate for about three hours and left the head, skin and bones! They devoured this carcass!
Earlier in the day Kat and Aymeric swapped and we then checked the hyena hair snare – nothing! And after lunch Aymeric and I attempted to do a Giraffe Feeding Ecology survey on Cyclops (photo), a giraffe that hangs around this area. We need 15 minutes of recorded feeding from him and each tree he ate. Unfortunately, Cyclops ran away when a giraffe calf ran and spooked him. We ended up with only 9 minutes of feeding and this took about 40 minutes to accomplish. So attempt #1 failed.
Later that night we checked on the girls again using the aerial and receiver and got a strong signal where we left them! So we went back to camp for the night. I am so very happy the girls got a meal and now we do not have to worry about feeding them! Today was a very productive day, and we also got Jetson back; our 1972 Land Rover with a power steering! Aymeric has been teaching me how to drive it. It is a very intense and harsh (not to mention, loud) vehicle that requires every ounce of your individualized attention, plus some upper body strength.
When I left Kat, she mentioned how lucky I was to be out here and she is completely right. It has been 41 days and I always thing about how fortunate I am and how much I respect my position here at CCF!
Day 42: Thursday, 12 October 2010
It took us a while to locate the cats because of the equipment and tracks leading us in wrong directions, but when we did find them at 7:30 they were laying down! Hershey, Chanel and Toblerone were together in some open grass while Nestle was about 30m away, alone! As the sun begins to get hot, the girls move out of the open bush and lead us directly to the road bordering the Frans Indongo fence line. They briefly rested in the road before heading into the bush. We find them lying together under a large bush with the exception of Nestle, who is about 35m away lying by herself again! But she eventually got up and walked to the others while “CHIRPURRING,” a new word I made up that describes one of the cats’ vocalizations. It is not a chirp or a loud call, as if the cat has been lost of separated. It is also not a purr as if they were lying comfortably next to one another. It is the combination of both; the approach from one cat to another, possibly a greeting. It sounds like a (initially) high-pitched chirp that descends to a stuttering purr that rumbles throughout the cat’s chest. Nestle knew where the other girls were, so no need to call for them, but as she drew nearer, she let them know of her gentle presence with a chirpurr. Eventually, the girls needed better shade, so the instant Chanel stood up, the Chocolates followed her and they walked about 20m westward and flopped in the shade beneath a larger bush. The girls lay 1-2m and purred. Then it was time to exchange Aymeric for Matt so we went back to the camp. However, as we began to go back to find the girls, Jetson, our beloved vehicle broke down .
We walked back to camp (photo) to be picked up by Matti, the head ecologist. We had to go back to CCF to get a different vehicle. We ended up getting the Mahindra and went back to Bellebenno around 16:00. After failingly attempting to fix Jetson, we went to find the girls, who (when we got there) have only moved about 15m north of the spot we left them at about 10:30! The girls slept the entire time except for when a bird or something seemingly spooked Hershey and jumped to her feet, thus scaring the other girls up too, before they returned to the same spots and continued resting. After dinner, at 20:45, we went searching for them again and found them sleeping on detour road again! We let them sleep in peace. It was a disappointment that Jetson broke down again just as I was beginning to learn how to drive him… But the cats are good as they rested their full bellies all day. They walked almost 2km away from where they made the kill yesterday. I thought this was decently far considering how full they appeared last night!
More to come soon!