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Sunday, 22 May 2011

A cheetah goes back home: the Wild.

This week we received a call from a game farm reporting that they had caught a large male cheetah in a trap cage. The farmer suspected that this was a lone cat (they had seen a lone cheetah recently), though she wanted to make sure there were no other cheetahs in a coalition with him and placed a second trap next to his to make sure. I requested that they shade the trapped animal’s cage and leave the second trap only for one night, as a coalition mate would be caught fairly quickly. The next morning, she called to say that there was no sign of another cheetah coming to his trap and asked if we could come and pick him up.

The farmer runs a cattle and game farm and their reason for trapping this cat was that he had become “resident” on their property and was causing game losses. They had not recently experienced any cattle losses, though two of their neighbours (cattle farmers) suspected that there was a cheetah disturbing their cattle and one lost a calf three weeks ago and suspected that a cheetah caught it.

The male is a large, healthy cat and farmers had actually witnessed a lone cheetah (presumably this one) chase a springbok towards some zebra, as the springbok ran through the zebra herd, the cheetah changed prey and caught a zebra foal. These zebra have been brought onto the game farm and from the conversation it seems that they are a new herd and the foal that was caught was among the first that they had born on their property. They further suspect that this male has caught a few springbok and hartebeest. They found his last hartebeest kill while it was still very fresh and they lured him into the trap cage using the carcass.

Area in which the cheetah was trapped – ideal cheetah habitat. (c) Cheetah Conservation Fund, 2011.
Cage trap with hartebeest kill after removing the cat. (c) Cheetah Conservation Fund, 2011.
Today, game farms are probably the greatest threats to cheetahs in Namibia. Indeed, more cheetahs are killed here than on livestock farms. These farms are stocked with wildlife, some of which are exotic and very vualuable, such as blesbok, black wildebeest and tsessebe. Thus, to keep these animals withing the property, farmers install almost impenetrable fences. Some cheetahs can and do find a way in and once inside, they might not be able to get out again and end up hunting valuable game.

Unfortunately, this cheetah had caught several valuable animals and did not seem to be moving through. I explained cheetah biology to the farmer, indicating that adult males will always look to establish a territory and this would likely be bigger than just this particular farm. Furthermore, by removing an individual male, it is likely that a coalition would move into the area in his place and potentially cause more losses.

She asked me what we do with the cats that we remove from farms and I explained that because he is not a problem animal with livestock, it was likely that we would release him either on our property or in another commercial farming area. I pointed out that cheetahs have a strong homing instinct and because we have several territorial males on our property, it is unlikely that he would stay there. He therefore has some chance of reaching their property again.

The farmer has been provided with our education materials and she seems very clued-up about cheetah biology and the problems facing the cheetah. Unfortunately she did not agree to let us release the cat again in the same area.
After a full health check up and determining that the cat was fit for release, we released him yesterday at CCF's big field, in the knowledge that with other males in the area he will most likely have to find a new territory or attempt to get back to his previous territory. We can only hope he will not get caught again. In the meantime, we continue to look for solutions as it regards to game farms.


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