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Friday, 31 December 2010

CCF Cheetah Keeper's update - Road to Freedom!

The New Year is almost upon us and when it does it will bring a new and very exciting chapter for Chanel and the Chocolates (photo). In January CCF’s most famous cheetahs will be moved to Erindi Nature Reserve. This means they will truly be free living cheetahs, with 70,000-ha of land to explore. This is the scenario we dreamed of when these four female cheetahs were first released into our Bellebenno game camp four months ago. You may well be asking yourselves how exactly do you transport four cheetahs living in a 4000-ha game camp to another location? Well, the first step is to move the cats back into their old home, the Bellebenno cheetah pens. Therefore this week CCF’s keepers, veterinary staff, selected volunteers and our Game Ranger James Slade went to Bellebenno to do just that. The task at hand was to find the girls through radio telemetry, anaesthetise them with a dart gun, place them in transport boxes and drive them back to the pens. If that sounds like a major operation then you would be right!

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

Cheetahs' Update from Keeper Matt

A few weeks ago the three Scar males (Phil, Tony, and Mischief) were formally introduced to the "Wild Boys," three wild males that arrived here last March: Chuck, Geno and Crosby. The two trios have had spent a month living in neighbouring enclosures and investigating one another through the fence; despite some early squabbles the all settled down and behaved.

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

NamibRand female - as of 14/Dec

The female cheetah made up for her limited movement a fortnight ago, with a more substantial trek this week.  Starting where we left her on northern Hammerstein, she first headed south onto the lower SE portion of the farm, then headed east on Dec 9th, arriving on Zaries two days later. From there she headed NE before turning around and moving back towards to C19 on the 14th.

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

CCF's Ecology Team Reports.

Earthwatch volunteer checking a camera trap (archive photo)
Our Ecology team has had a pretty busy past couple of weeks with back-to-back Earthwatch teams here at CCF. As always we were fortunate to have some really terrific groups of volunteers, they have been a great help in so many facets of our research. We have had some rain over the past few weeks and are seeing everything transform and turn green including our dams (many of which were long dry) refilling with water. With the coming of the rains, we are seeing lots of interesting insects, reptiles, amphibians and birds starting to appear.

Everything is going well with our camera traps. We recently got our first cheetah on a camera trap on our Farm Bynadaar as well as our first photos from Osonanga. We have also been getting lots of photos of HiFi, the two wild males that live in Bellebenno (photo left), the mother and 4 cubs, and potentially a new female on the big field. As always, we get a variety of interesting photos of other animals through our camera traps.

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!
With Earthwatch here the past two weeks we have been trying to do all our monthly game counts. Unfortunately, we have had a hard time with a few of the counts being rained out last week, however, we have had much better weather this week. This Earthwatch group has had phenomenal luck on some of the counts, like seeing six cheetahs on one night count, a spectacular sighting of an aardwolf on the next and then a great sighting of a leopard on a late afternoon count. Following the rains, the big field is alive with animals and we are seeing bigger herds of oryx, springbok and red hartebeest (with lots of little red hartebeest frolicking around as well).

Cheetah mother and cubs in Osonanga.
Unfortunately, we have had to said goodbye, or are about to, to a lot of our interns. Ryan and Aymeric have already left and Sanne, Brett and Henry will be leaving next week. Sanne has worked incredibly hard throughout her time here and has made a lot of progress with our project looking at the diet of the free-ranging Namibian cheetah through analysis of hairs in scat samples. Brett has worked hard on analysing some data from our monthly waterhole counts as well as spending a lot of his time helping Aletris out with her caracal project. Henry has been very involved with the care of puppies and goats as well as helping sort through camera trap photos. Recently he has also been helping James with the removal of the invasive prickly pear from around cheetah pens. Our new intern from the van Hall Larenstien University in the Netherlands, Marjolein, has arrived and is settling in well. She will be working on a project looking at the use camera trap photos of non-target animals to estimate species richness and density.

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!

Kat Forsythe

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Two wild cheetah cubs get a health checkup.

Earthwatch Volunteers assist Dr. Laurie Marker and the CCF Clinic staff with a wild cheetah work up.
On the 1st December 2010 the Clinic at CCF performed work ups on 2 wild cheetah cubs. The procedure was led by Dr Laurie Marker and Dr Anais Herbet. Rosie Glazier and many other staff and volunteers were also involved. Current Earthwatch volunteers were able to take part and have a hands-on experience.

The two cubs, one male and one female are around 6 months of age. They were caught in a trap cage by a farmer in the Otjiwarongo region. The mother was unfortunately not caught after several attempts. It is believed that she abandoned the cubs. The anaesthesia went smoothly allowing the team to gain important data and samples; and to be able to assess the health of the young cubs. Both are in very good condition with only a few superficial wounds from the cage. Vaccinations and de-wormers were given and transponders placed. They recovered well and are currently held in a secure quarantine pen close to the centre.

During cheetah checkups, the CCF staff measures them and takes samples that provide important data about the cheetah's biology and health.
Remember, this is one of many examples of what your donations accomplish. Please remember to include the cheetah in your gift list this December, and every dollar will be doubled as part of our year-end challenge!

With best wishes,

The CCF Clinic Staff

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

CCF talks to fourth graders at Eros Primary School in Windhoek

Aletris Neils with the Eros Primary School's fourth-grade class.
CCF staff visited the Eros Primary school in Windhoek last week. CCF's Gail Potgieter and Aletris Neils spoke to 180 fourth graders about the cheetah and CCF's work. During the visit, the kids presented CCF with funds they raised as part of their conservation week. The school trip was coordinated by teacher and former CCF volunteer, Cindy Botha. Bravo Cindy and all the kids at Eros!
Gail and Aletris are presented with donations raised by the Eros Primary School 4th graders.
Children are the future stewards of our planet. CCF's youth education programs are a crucial element as they build awareness to the plight of the cheetah and to the many solutions that can be implemented for peaceful co-existence with predators. Please support this and other important programs with a donation this December!


Monday, 6 December 2010

Cheetahs' Update from Keeper Kate. 30 Nov-6 Dec 2010.

This past week a couple of our Bellebenno cheetahs have been entertaining our newest Earthwatch volunteers with some of their antics. Kayla, one of our younger females has taken to pestering the older cheetahs, spurring them on to run faster. One particular morning Luna had a double whammy of a moment running behind the feeding bakkie. With all the recent rains, tortoises have started coming out, including inside the cheetah pens! Luna was running behind the bakkie as usual, when Kayla gave her a playful double smack on the behind causing her to lunge forward straight into a passing tortoise! Poor Luna didn’t quite know how to react, and jumped what seemed like 5 feet straight in the air! Although we are all pretty sure that tortoise was just as surprised as she was!

It is not just the Bellebenno cheetahs stealing the show, although they normally do that anyway. One of our 'scientists', Darwin (photo), appears to have been taking a note from Kayla’s harassment book. Darwin is the smallest of the Scientists, and has one of the biggest personalities as well. His victim is “Mr. Livingstone, I presume?” Livingstone and Darwin are the two smallest of the four and typically lag behind during the run. Darwin usually follows behind Livingstone, but apparently that is no longer good enough for Darwin as he has taken to playfully double smacking Livingstone’s hindquarters. At times it appears as if Darwin could almost jump up on Livingstone’s backside and ride him the rest of the feeding-run!

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

An amazing Livestock Guarding Dog retires.

Tylee with CCF's vet nurse Rosie and vet Anais.
Last Friday, one of our best Livestock Guarding Dog breeding females, Tylee, was spayed in the CCF clinic. At 7 1/2 years old and after six wonderful litters, she deserved her retirement. The ovariohysterectomy (removal of uterus and ovaries) went well; vet nurse Rosie and I monitored her over the week-end. She is recovering in the clinic and will be ready to be introduced to the other CCF retired dogs in CCF's Boskop farm.

Two of Tylee's pups placed last month.
Tylee has given birth to 58 puppies throughout her life, and all them were placed in Namibian Farms as part of CCF's Livestock Guarding Dog Program, which is such an important element for non-lethal predator management. Since the programme was initiated in 1994, CCF has placed over 375 livestock guarding dogs on Namibian farms, significantly reducing conflict between predators and humans.

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
Research Veterinarian

Friday, 26 November 2010

Taking care of Kangal puppy's hernia

Preparing Firat for the procedure
Last Wednesday, the little male Kangal puppy named Firat, recently donated to CCF, was operated on for an umbilical hernia (this is a common type of hernia in puppies), in CCF clinic. 
Rosie and Anais operating on Firat
Rosie Glazier, DVN, and I performed the procedure, which lasted no more than an hour, while CCF's Dutch intern Sanne monitored the puppy’s anesthesia. The puppy was awake soon after the end of the surgery and was back in the kraal in the evening with his sheep and goats family. He is being monitored and the stitches will be removed in 10 days. He is as jumpy and playful as usual.
Rosie monitors Firat after his successful surgery.

Dr Anais Herbert, DVM
Research Veterinarian

Cheetah Keeper's update to 22 November

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

The Bellebenno Cheetahs - Trackers' Journal

Student interns Ryan, Aymeric and Sanne are doing a great job monitoring the four cheetahs that are participating in this stage of CCF's re-introduction research in Bellebenno. We are delighted to share their personal impressions here! As the Holidays approach, we want to remind you that this and other CCF projects are only possible thanks to your donations. Please consider putting the cheetah in your Holiday Gifts list! Now, through 31 December, your gift will be doubled as part of our Year-End Challenge!


Day 70: Tuesday, 9 November 2010

I’m back in Bellebenno to meet up with Aymeric and switch with Sanne (tracking on left photo). The girls had killed another adult red hartebeest in the morning and were now resting. When Aymeric took me to the girls, they were all spread out in the shade of several small bushes. The hartebeest was in the center of a sandy clearing with the sun beaming on it. Like all the adult prey items that they kill, the girls can never manage to drag the heavy carcass into the shade.

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

After a brisk tracking session, we found the girls at 06:30. After the red hartebeest meal from yesterday, we expected them to go to a waterhole and then rest all day, but instead they walked around all morning through open and dense bush and on the road. At one point the Chocolate sisters began to play, chasing and tackling one another while on the road! We watched some exciting behaviors such as Hershey climbing a tree, all four girls allogrooming each other simultaneously and playfully chasing several warthogs.

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

About 1km after we began tracking on foot, we heard an unfamiliar grunting sound. We ran towards the noise and stumbled upon Nestle, crouched in the grass with her scowl facing us. We circled around to see what the sound was and found Toblerone, Chanel and Hershey surrounding a large animal. It was an adult red hartebeest (probably an old male). Nestle began charging at us; her head pointed downwards, and her eyes looking directly at us. She let out a deep growl, so Aymeric and I gave her space. Chanel had the hartebeest by the neck while Hershey and Toblerone were holding down its hindquarters. The hartebeest regained some energy and thrashed and turned tossing Chanel over its head and spooking Toblerone and Hershey. Chanel walked away, possibly because she got the wind taken out of her, while Toblerone continued with the strangulation hold. After five minutes the hartebeest was dead, and Nestle was the first to begin feeding, followed shortly by the others. The girls ate and slept the rest of the morning. But during lunch something happened that I have been waiting for a long, long time: IT RAINED! The downpour lasted almost 45 minutes with splashes of lightning and thunder. The girls stayed with the carcass throughout the storm.

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

It was wet and damp when we found the girls still at the carcass. Chanel and Toblerone were picking at the bones while Nestle and Hershey were allogrooming each other. We watched as the four alternately fed on the carcass for about 1.5 hours. At 07:45, led by Chanel, they abandoned the carcass so Aymeric and I inspected it. To our surprise, almost the entire hartebeest was covered with grasses! Earlier, we observed Nestle and Hershey doing the awkward “pawing” behavior all around the carcass, but never before had they buried a carcass! This was so peculiar because once cheetahs abandon a carcass, they usually do not return, so covering it (preserving it or even masking the odor) seems pointless! It would be interesting to see if other captive-turned-wild cheetahs also perform this behavior. When we caught back up with the girls, we found Chanel and Nestle lying in a sandy clearing with many tunnels and holes dug by an aardvark. Nestle called for Toblerone and Hershey so softly and subtly as her eyes began to close and she was dozing off to sleep! Toblerone and Hershey emerged and slowly walked to Chanel and Nestle with Toblerone leading. As they approached, Hershey’s back leg slid down one of the tunnels, catching her off balance and forcing her to stumble a bit. This unexpected movement freaked Toblerone out, who jumped and then ran about 4m, which set a sleepy Nestle into utter fear. I have never seen an animal transition so quickly from quiet relaxation to hurried panic! She sprinted away into the bush leaving Chanel lying in a cloud of sand! It was hilariously adorable. When composure took over, all the girls laid together back in the sand. Soon it was brutally hot and Chanel got up and led the girls toward Sukkel Dam, stopping 500m shy of it to rest under the shade of a bush. At this time, Aymeric and I got to show the girls to some Babson Houser guests from Germany. They seemed to thoroughly enjoy hearing about the success of this project, especially knowing that part of the price they pay for staying at CCF’s Babson House is allocated to CCF’s programs.

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

Another cloudy morning in Bellebenno, but the air was still hot, almost sticky. The girls were already on the move when we found them at 06:20. They walked on the road that borders the Dieckmann’s property. Toblerone and Hershey scratched/marked some trees along the way. This was the first time Hershey successfully scratched a tree rather than just putting one paw on it. She is learning! Nestle seems to be the only one who rarely ever scent marks. Toblerone and Hershey began to chase after a steenbok that was on the other side of the fence; their eyes facing the steenbok the entire 100m they ran! It was impressive that none of them tripped! Soon the Chocolates followed Chanel into the bush and even though they fed on hartebeest yesterday morning, they tried to hunt every warthog and oryx in their path; Chanel just watched as the Chocolates trotted and pounced their way to unsuccessful and clumsy kill attempts. Eventually Chanel joined and slowly began to stalk, carefully and very slowly placing one paw in front of the other. Only 30m ahead were two adult eland grazing on the yellow stalks of grass. Five minutes went by and the girls crept closer and closer but Toblerone got excited and began trotting to chase these massive eland, with the four ending up empty-handed. They walked more until 08:45 and went to sleep in the shade. Aymeric and I headed back to CCF and when we returned to Bellebenno, it was pouring rain with lightning and thunder, AGAIN! When the storm passed, we went searching for our girls. We looked and scanned for 2.5 hours with not a single signal. The weather may have been throwing off our equipment. After trying nearly 50 spots, it grew dark and we went back to camp. Tomorrow morning will most likely be a difficult one for Aymeric and I, considering we will not know where to start… However, we did have a great sighting of a large adult caracal.

Day 76: Monday, 15 November 2010

After a rainy night and with the clouds still rumbling in, we began our morning, and to our surprise we got a signal at the first place we attempted (Hog’s Heaven waterhole)! We could not believe it! So by 06:20 we found the girls. Chanel, Toblerone and Hershey were feeding while Nestle was lying 2m away and glaring at us. The carcass appeared to be a male kudu calf and the girls’ bellies were beyond massive! By the time we got there, Chanel and Toblerone were about done eating. They looked so corpulent and fat and wet and uncomfortable. When Toblerone flopped down she made a large grunting sound as if she just ran a marathon! Hershey continued to feed on the carcass, picking at the ribs and frequently crushing the bones. Nestle was so bloated that all she could manage was look at us with her belly rounded towards the sky! 35 minutes after picking at the carcass, Hershey (photo - left) began to “paw” at the grass! Like last time, she partially covered the carcass with loose clumps of wet grass. Eventually she was about 2m from the carcass, still scraping at the grass! She finally flopped and started to heavily pant as if the “pawing” behavior expended the last of her energy. Soon enough, they all started falling asleep with their heads still up, not wanting to put them on the wet grass. It continued to sprinkle here and there, but the girls managed to sleep through it. From personal observations, a wet cheetah is an unhappy cheetah! It rained almost the entire day and we sought shelter inside Jetson, our vehicle. The girls also found shelter under the thick canopy of some acacia bushes.

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

CCF Volunteers and Student Interns are saying...

Thanks so much to our Earthwatch volunteers (EW) and student intern Jaimee (SI) for sending us their comments! To learn more about volunteering and internships, click here. --Patricia

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)
Ed P., EW – This is my first experience feeding the cats. It was a great opportunity to get close and observe natural behaviours. I experienced a variety of feeding situations including medication administration. Individual cats received specific feeding as required by the range in age from young to the quite old. The “personalities’ were also a factor in the feeding approach; more complex and interesting than anticipated. Thoroughly enjoyable and informative experience.

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

Cheetahs' Update from Keeper Kate - 9-15 Nov 2010

Wild Mum update – she has finished taking her anti-biotics and appears to be doing well. Keeper staff have not seen any swelling or bleeding from the cavity, thus the staff is hopeful her upcoming dental visit on Friday will go well. (Read about her visit to the dentist here.)

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.

Until soon,


Saturday, 13 November 2010

The CCF Ecology Team reports

Bellebenno release – The girls are going well and have not killed for a few days. Last week they killed a Red Hartebeest and an Eland calf. In typical cheetah behaviour, they are the most active during the cooler hours of the day and prefer to spend their midday under a shady tree. Meantime, Matti is almost finished with mapping their weekly movements around the release site so it will be exciting to see how they are progressing.

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).

Camera traps are going well. Last week they captured some great pictures including a leopard (photo - left) that is living in the Boskop area and a coalition of two wild male cheetahs that live in Bellebenno. And this week the camera picked up some pictures of a Mother cheetah and four large cubs next to the big field (photo-below). This is the first time we have seen them in any of our traps, so it is pretty exciting. Summer is in full swing here in Namibia and the weather is hot and dry. We are looking forward to the rainy season to start as a couple of the dams are drying up. We do have the man-made troughs for the animals but naturally we'd prefer the rains to start. Cameras are being left at dry dams for a week while the animals are still visiting and then we are moving them to other locations.

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 NamibRand Female Cheetah travelling far! 10/Nov 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

Cheetah Goes to the Dentist - A visitor's report.

Thanks to Marisa Y. Katnic (CCF San Diego Chapter Treasurer) for contributing to our blog (Thursday, November 4, 2010)

I'm in Namibia and LOVING it! Laurie and Bruce are most gracious and I feel the heartbeat of the cheetah ... all around!

Our dentist appointment was for 4:30 p.m. An eight-year old, wild female cheetah is visiting the local family dentist in the nearby town of Otjiwarongo. She [the cheetah] and her two older male cubs (approximately 20 months) arrived at CCF about one week ago following a call from a farmer in the Okakarara area. (Read more about these cheetahs here.)

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.
Mind you, this dentist was the dentist you and I would visit. Incredible, isn't it? Overall, the cheetah is in good health and we drove her back to CCF where she is now resting and in Laurie Marker's good hands. When she recovers she will be released with her two cubs and those children that watched will surely go home and not forget to brush their teeth!"


Friday, 5 November 2010

Dartmouth Students Visit 4th November 2010

A group of students from Dartmouth College in the U.S. recently enjoyed a fun and educational day here at CCF. Students from Dartmouth have visited us for several years and we always enjoy their visit. They are a bright, inquisitive group and we appreciate their genuine, heartfelt interest. The day was a non-stop whirl wind of activity learning about the cheetah and the genetic, educational and ecology work done at CCF.

CCF's dog handler, Carolyn Whitesell (with Isha) discussing the techniques used to train dogs to sniff out scat.
The day started with an early morning cheetah run with Blonde Man, Smart Man, Ron and Little C and a scat-finding demonstration by our scat-sniffing dogs, Finn and Isha.
After successfully finding cheetah scat, Finn sits waiting for his reward.
Gail then introduced them to the new puppies Aleya and Cappuccino (Ushi's puppy) who live in the goat kraal with the goats and sheep. She talked about the Livestock Guarding Dog Programme and the dog’s role in keeping predators away from goats and sheep. A short visit to the OK Clan cubs Peter, Senay, Tiger Lily and Kaijay made the group very happy and the cubs were equally curious about their new friends.

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

CCF's Livestock Guarding Dogs: All good things come together

After looking for Kangal dogs for our breeding program for several years, this year we had an exponential increase in the number of these amazing dogs at CCF!

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. 
Around the same time we were contacted by a French breeder, Anne Hupel from Bonnie Blue Flag who offered us two puppies. We picked a male (Firat) and a female (Feliz) puppy from two different litters born this summer; the male is going to allow us to use natural insemination with our Kangal females in the future, meanwhile we will use the semen that was generously donated to us last year by Tamara Taylor. As we were looking into options to get the two French puppies over to CCF, our good friend and member of the Leadership for Conservation in Africa (LCA), Patrick Couzinet (photo above), offered to get a roundtrip from France to Namibia in order to bring the puppies to us. All we needed to do was wait for the youngest French puppy to turn two months at the end of October in order to be old enough to travel. Finally, this past weekend the two puppies Firat and Feliz, arrived at CCF, escorted by Patrick who stayed with us at the center for 1 1/2 days. Firat and Feliz have settled nicely into life in the kraal (photo below), and are doing well living with the goats and sheep. Little Firat is a smart boy--he already has figured out that the best way to cool off in the heat is to lie in the water troughs, which is what the adult dogs in the kraal do. Feliz is old enough that in the next week she will start going out with the herd during the day.

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

Cheetah Keeper Update

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

Three Wild Cheetahs in a Trap Cage

On Wednesday, a farmer called with three cheetahs in a trap cage (photo). Since my life here in Namibia had not started as of yet as I just arrived from NY and London last night, I decided that this would be a good time to load up staff (Gail, Kat, Rick) for training and we went to pick up the cheetahs.

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.

We worked them up on Thursday, and the farmer had hoped that he could have come to view the workup, however, he did not make it. As we worked on each of the cats, the story of what might have been happening with these cheetahs came to light.

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.

Cheeta purrs!


Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Eco-Team Report

The Rhino Tracking is going well. Our Earthwatch volunteers seem to enjoy the activity very much and found it very educational. I have managed to ID all 5 rhinos in the past month, Rob will confirm this when he returns from vacation. Picnic Dam is completely dry and cattle dam is starting to recede quickly. We managed to get a good location fix on Rhino 4 yesterday, which is good since it has been a while with the receivers and transmitters acting up.
An Earthwatch Volunteer assists with checking camera traps.
The Bellebenno girls (Chanel, Toblerone, Hershey and Nestle) are proving to be successful hunters and have killed nine Eland calves in the week from the 18th to 25th. Matti is currently working on producing maps of their movement around Bellebenno (stay tunned for the next journal).

Swing Gates are going smoothly, not many holes have been spotted which means the animals have been using them.

Game Counts. Circuit counts around CCF property and a 12-hour Bellebenno waterhole count went ahead last week. The Earthwatch group seemed to enjoy them very much. We saw quite a few interesting animals on the night counts including bush babies, aardvarks and HiFi, a wild cheetah, which was very nice. Around 150 Eland were seen on the 12-hour waterhole counts, which is good considering the current hunting pressure on them by Chanel and the Chocolates.

I think that’s about it for now.


Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Livestock Guarding Dog Puppies Go to Work

Two more livestock guarding dogs were placed with Namibian communal farmers on Saturday the 23rd of October. The farms were visited before puppy day to ensure that the puppies’ new homes would be suitable and to meet the farmers that would take care of them. These two farmers (photo: Mr. Kavari and Mr. Katuuo) are from the eastern parts of Namibia. They had reported stock losses to cheetahs and other predators, including wild dogs and had applied to CCF for dogs to put with their livestock.

As usual, during puppy day, the farmers were trained on how to care for and train their new puppies to become successful guarding dogs (on photo: Gail training the farmers). They were further provided with information to take home on training livestock guarding dogs, predator-friendly farming practices and ways to reduce livestock losses to cheetahs and other predators. Both farmers were eager to learn about using guarding dogs effectively and selected their respective puppies from a litter of five.

The other three puppies will be placed on suitable farms in the near future.


Monday, 25 October 2010

Cheetah Keepers' Weekly Update

Enrichment week for our Centre Boys Ron, LittleC, Smart and Blonde started off with a simple scent test. Earthwatch volunteers Bobbi, Rosemary, Ed, Craig, and student intern Jamie started by making papier-mâché balls. Once dry, Blonde and Ron (our test cats) were exposed to the following scents: mixed herbs, 5 roses tea, rooibos tea, ginger, garlic, cloves, cinnamon, earl grey tea, and coriander. Ron and Blonde were separated from the others, and each other (to avoid fights and outside interference), as each scent ball was placed in their yard. Ron was less than impressed with the exercise and had zero reaction to all 9 scents, while younger Blonde showed interest in mixed herbs, coriander, and ginger. Even though LittleC was not directly exposed to the scent balls, he was rubbing his neck along the fence line, so keepers and volunteers suspect that some of the scents became airborne and he was reacting to those scents.
Building Ziggy

EW Volunteers and CCF's Keepers with Ziggy the Zebra
After determining what scents would provoke the best response, Earthwatchers started to construct Ziggy the Zebra out of cardboard and papier-mâché (photos). Once Ziggy was dry, and all scented-up, including 2 meat treats hidden inside his ears, he was placed next to the termite mound in the boys’ yard, all the while the boys were attentively watching Ziggy’s every move! When the gate was opened the boys cautiously approached their new pen-mate. Blonde and Smart were the first to reach Ziggy, and with the wind helping sway Ziggy back and forth, it made him seem even more life-like. Smart hissed, and Blonde pounced, grabbing Ziggy by the side, pulling him down on his butt. After that it was a series of tugs and pulls by Blonde, who then laid down on his side to paw at Ziggy’s legs while Smart and Ron licked and chewed Ziggy’s body. LittleC came over once more meat treats were added to Ziggy and proceeded to carry Ziggy around in his mouth, shake him from side to side. All in all it was an entertaining sight for staff and volunteers, and the cats appeared to also be enjoying themselves.
Blonde and Smart

This whole while, Tiny next door (photo) was pacing at the fence line, waiting for her turn at Ziggy! When the boys had exhausted themselves, Ziggy was moved into Tiny’s yard. After some hesitation, Tiny grabbed all her courage and approached the swaying Ziggy. A few seconds later Ziggy was being dragged off by the tiny cheetah (keep in mind Ziggy is bigger than Tiny!). And she was able to enjoy the zebra all to herself, as Hermione, Harry, and Polly were too busy being lounging cheetahs. Tiny thoroughly enjoyed the papier-mâché head as when she pounced on it, a meat treat popped out, and was quickly eaten up by Tiny.

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

The Bellebenno Cheetahs - 40 days of freedom!

After a nice break from the bush, I was more than looking forward to return to it along with seeing the cats. While I was away, they only killed a duiker and now have not eaten in three days. When Aymeric took me to where the girls were, I was very surprised. They are in a new area that is the farthest northeast they have ever been. The bush here is excessively dense, especially considering the wall of thorns these bushes make. The cats slept until 17:10 but while they slept, I did some paperwork for a while and after lunch Aymeric and I decided it a good time to clear a plot of land for Brown Hyena hair snare trap #2.We raked and dug  up any rooted grasses or loose branches in a triangular area between 3 large acacia bushes. We also had to cut off any intrusive branches (about 1m off the ground) from the bush. When it was cleared at about 16:05 we drove back to the girls to find them in the same spot. At this area it was extremely dense but the ground was sandy with no grasses. Eventually all 4 decided to get up. Aymeric and I followed closely because it was much easier to lose the girls in such thickly dense bush. We walked and walked and walked SSW behind the girls. At one point a large owl flew right over our heads in this one vast sandy clearing. Here laid so much sand and tall dead trees that poked from the grainy surface. This place could have been a beach if there was any water nearby. But the girls did not stop or rest or scent-mark; they just walked. The Chocolates did casually chase some zebra, but it was not a hunt. As the girls walked and occasionally got separated, they would frantically vocalize until they caught back up. This happened to Chanel once, Nestle once, and Toblerone once! It was not until 19:00 when Aymeric and I decided to go back to camp and leave the girls, who were still walking at this point. It was getting dark, quickly and we still had a 3.5km walk back to our vehicle (now the Mahindra). While we cooked dinner, Aymeric noticed an orange glow that came from over the Waterberg Plateau. We drove to check on the girls and called CCF to ask about the fire in the distance! We got a signal for the cats between two points and then we were told not to worry about the fire, for they are common this time of the year. The cats, from what our telemetry equipment told us was that they left the dense bush and returned back to their usual area of open bush closer to the main entrance of the Bellebenno Camp.

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!