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Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Two cheetah cubs and their mother awaiting to be released.

Preparing for the workup. (c) Cheetah Conservation Fund
On Friday 25 November, CCF was again called to pick up a family of wild cheetahs that had been trapped by a game farmer. This time it was a mother and two young cubs (one male, one female), and all three of them had their work-ups performed under anesthesia on Saturday morning, 26 November. As with all wild cheetah work-ups, they had samples taken (blood, hair, skin, scat), they were vaccinated against Rabies virus and treated for parasites, they had identification photos taken and ear tags placed, and they were given intravenous fluids for hydration support. All went well with the anesthetic procedures and they recovered well.
Earthwatch volunteers assist the CCF staff with one of the cubs' workup. (c) Cheetah Conservation Fund
As we have indicated before, 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 valuable, such as blesbok, black wildebeest and tsessebe. Thus, to keep these animals within 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.

Fortunately, because these young cubs still have their mother to take care of them and teach them to hunt, they can be released back into the wild.

Greetings to all,

Gaby (Vet)

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The first seven days of freedom - A journal.

Day 1 - 13 November 2011

After their release into the 4000-ha Bellebenno game camp, Anakin, followed by Obi-Wan and Chester made their way towards the half-eaten oryx carcass that was placed in the shade of a tree inside of Bellebenno. Omdillo finally made his way out several minutes later. They ate together with very little aggression and before falling asleep in the smouldering hot afternoon.

Around 18:00 they ventured off into their new, much larger, home. We followed their signals, using an antennae and receiver to find out their whereabouts. Each cat is equipped with a VHF radio collar that has a specific frequency, which our receiver picks up. As the beeps get louder on the receiver you know you are getting closer. They led us in one large circle, and every time we caught the quickest glimpse of them, they would run away from us!

Once the sun went down, our team (Rachel [cheetah keeper], Kat [ecologist] and I [cheetah re-introducer]) was still attempting to get accurate visuals of the cats. When we decided to call it quits, I went to go get our vehicle in the dark. This is when I saw two sets of eye shine right on the road. It ended up being Obi-Wan and Chester! They quickly ran into the bush and were masked by complete darkness. Hopefully tomorrow they will allow us to observe them more…

Day 2 - 14 November 2011

The morning began at 06:00 when we finally received a strong enough signal to track one of the cats: Chester. Although we got several visuals on him, he kept running away. Instead of pressuring him more, we decided to search for Anakin and Obi-Wan. We found them together but also ran away from us whenever we got within 50 metres. Eventually they went to rest under a tree and let us observe. Lastly, we found Omdillo. He ran from us the first couple sightings, but then let us watch as he laid in the shade. After about 15 minutes of observation, Omdillo began calling for his coalition, who ranged 700-1800m away. He appeared stressed and did not seem to want to be apart from them.

After lunch we found Omdillo and Chester lying together under a tree right next to the road! We then switched and tracked Anakin and Obi-Wan. They were also in the shade, about one kilometre away from the other two. As we observed, we noticed a slight swelling above Anakin’s left eye. He was blinking frequently and it seemed a little wet from constant tears. There was no conspicuous discharge or anything so we will continue to monitor him in case it gets worse.

Around 19:30 we found Chester and Omdillo who had not moved far. We actually found them at the release site where they were investigating the last of the remains from their supplied oryx carcass. They could possibly be getting hungry again. At around 20:00, when all was dark, I watched Omdillo and Chester crouch low as if to see something! Emerging from the grass appeared Anakin and Obi-Wan! It was amazing! All four cats were reunited and began heading down the road together.

Day 3 - 15 November 2011

We followed the cats’ spoor (tracks) down the road. They moved quite a bit since we left them last night. About 5 metres from the road Rachel spotted Anakin and Obi-Wan. They were allogrooming each other’s faces! Today was the first time this behaviour was recorded with this group! After we watched for a while, we decided to find Omdillo and Chester, whose signals told us they were nearby.

We walked about 35m before I heard a crunching sound. At 06:15 we looked closer and found them feeding on a sub-adult female oryx! THEIR FIRST KILL!!! Only three days into the release and the cats have made a kill! Rachel and I were completely ecstatic! Unfortunately we missed the hunt and could not tell who killed the oryx, but we have a very strong suspicion it was either Omdillo or Chester (two most dominant cats). Omdillo came to CCF when he was three years old and would have had the most experience in terms of being wild.

Judging from the freshness of the carcass, but the fact that it was almost completely eaten, Rachel and I determined that the kill was made when it was still dark, around 04:00 - 05:00.

As the morning got hotter, the cats began to search for shade. Omdillo and Chester were the last to leave the carcass. But before they finished, both of them were observed covering the carcass with dead grass, which made it barely visible.

Around 17:00 we returned to the cats and found them in the same spot -- still with the carcass. All four seemed exhausted from the heat as well as the daunting task of feeding! At one point Omdillo and Obi-Wan (at separate times) revisited the carcass and even tried to eat some of its little remains. They did not stay long, for the massive amounts of butterflies and other insects may have driven the cheetahs away.

Eventually the cats walked off. They headed straight towards the road and began walking on the cool sandy surface back towards their release site again. We left the cats there and on our way home, Rachel and I had the miraculous privilege to see a brown hyena walking away from the road. Today, in its entirety, was a day to remember!

Day 4 - 16 November 2011

On this chilly morning, we found all four cheetahs still together and fairly close to where we left them last night. They mostly slept and rested through the morning, probably due to their large bellies (especially Omdillo).

At one point, Rachel and I were watching them rest from about 20m away when Chester got up and began to approach us. As we sat, he got closer and closer but not aggressively. I tried to make my body look large by sitting upright, hoping this would make him return to the others. Instead he calmly got closer (only 3-5m from us!). I told Rachel that we should slowly step back and give him space. He ended up investigating our backpacks by sniffing them. I was personally worried that he was going to scent mark our bags with his urine, but luckily this was not the case. He ended up just walking back to his coalition and continued to rest the remainder of his day away.

It was a lazy, quiet and relaxing day in Bellebenno until about 19:00. Then the wind picked up and the clouds rolled in. Thunder clapped and eventually lightning struck throughout the heavy clouded dark sky. The cheetahs did not seem too alarmed by this, but Rachel and I were. We ended up cooking dinner in the rain and ate the delicious meal inside of our vehicle (called the Condor). Hopefully the cheetahs found a nice place to remain dry. We are hoping that the cats will soon find one of four man-made Bellebenno’s watering holes, but with the new rain, they can just drink from puddles for now!

Day 5 - 17 November 2011

The cats were still asleep when we woke up. Then they walked up and down the fence line for a little bit, but by 08:00 they were sleeping again, and here they remained for a good part of the day. They only moved to follow the shade.

After lunch, Rachel and I returned to the cats. Like usual, we found them on the road. Chester was in some shade just beside the road, Anakin was lying in the road and Obi-Wan was frantically and unusually pacing the fence line. That’s when I saw my greatest fear come to life. Outside the fence was Omdillo! Rachel and I realised we had to act quickly. I tied up a swing gate with some wire. Rachel had extra meat in the car (used to feed another cheetah, Darwin) and we called for Omdillo, as if going to feed him. He approached the fence, but the attention obviously attracted the other three cats. As I guarded Rachel’s back from them, she threw a small piece of meat to Omdillo. After he ate the first piece, Rachel threw the second meat treat on our side of the fence, forcing him to go through the propped opened swing gate to get the meat. Since these cats are so food-motivated, the plan worked perfectly and all four were reunited again.

Rachel and I checked the entire area where he escaped and found no definitive part of the fence where Omdillo escaped. It remains a mystery.

Once unified, the coalition made their way to a nice shaded area and slept the majority of the day away. Only as the dusk set, did they move along the roads. We left them as they all flopped in the middle of the road. It was a crazy, emotional day for us here in Bellebenno!

Day 6 - 18 November 2011

Rachel and I decided to have an early morning in hopes of witnessing a hunt/kill. Instead, we found the cats around 05:00 (still dark) near the cheetah pens. Not five minutes later, we found both Omdillo as well as Obi-Wan stuck in the buffer zone (area between two entrance gates of an enclosure) where they were previously penned! Neither could squeeze back through the gates, so Rachel and I had to carefully open it for them, once again reuniting the coalition.

Later, the cats made their way east, but still staying close to the roads and fence line. As they walked down the dirt road, they would occasionally walk into the bush to scent mark an acacia bush, tree or termite mound. This was not only the furthest away they had been from their release spot; but also the furthest into Bellebenno these protective males have been yet! We observed Obi-Wan eating oryx faeces on three separate occasions! I wanted an explanation for this caprophagic (eating faeces) behaviour, so I went to our head cheetah keeper, Juliette, for answers. She told me that this could result from, “…a mineral deficiency, a learning curve, or even from consuming similar smelling/tasting faeces from their carcasses/kill.” She further went on to explain that, “this behaviour is commonly observed for many animals and there is a highly unlikely chance of pure hunger being the cause of it.” We also saw Obi-Wan climb 2m high in an acacia tree!

Before lunch, Rachel decided that it would be best to supply the cheetahs with some water. Although we want them to find one of Bellebenno’s four water holes, they haven’t yet showed promising behaviours of reaching these water holes any time soon. I carried water out to them in a medium-sized plastic tub. They knew exactly what it was and drank several litres in about 3-minutes’time. They were definitely thirsty but we certainly don’t want them to rely on us to supply them every time.

Later in the afternoon, the males allogroomed one another, mainly in pairs: Anakin and Obi-Wan, then Omdillo and Chester, until they fell asleep.

Red Crested Korhan (Source:
On a side note, Rachel and I witnessed a male Red Crested Korhan. This is a once in a lifetime sighting -- a birding photographer’s most sought-after photo, and I have it on video! Later that night, we also had a beautifully sleek Small Spotted Genet visit during dinner. Both of these sightings were unforgettable and continue to make me realise how fortunate I am to be here.

Day 7 - 19 November 2011

Rachel and I started early again and found the coalition on the same road. It seems they have found a territory worth guarding, and of course it borders a fence line with some of CCF’s captive female cheetahs. Near the entrance of this female enclosure (57ha), we found fresh cheetah scat –evidently from one of the four males! We quickly collected the sample and brought it back to a very chilled cooler so it can be analysed at the CCF’s genetics lab.

The cats walked the road until the sun became too unbearable; found nice shade and slept. After an hour or so, they randomly got up and moved to different shade. Rachel went to mark their old spot with our GPS unit, but quickly came back running to me in a panic. She had seen a snake darting away from her --the obvious reason why the cats left their spot. We cautiously went back to try to identify the snake as it slithered swiftly up an acacia bush. Rachel said it must be a Cape Cobra, one of Namibia’s deadliest and most venomous snakes. This experience reminded us of how careful we must be. Life in the bush is full of surprises, and some require to be constantly guarded.

By lunchtime, Juliette replaced Rachel, and both of us watched as the cats re-traced this morning’s steps. They walked al the way back towards the female cheetah pens, constantly scent marking. At one point there was a large adult oryx obliviously grazing several hundred metres ahead from them. The cats saw the oryx, but did not hunt it! Instead, when only about 100m away, we caught Anakin flopping in the middle of the road and Omdillo scent marking a bush! We could wondered why the males didn’t try to hunt the oryx, since we know they are hungry...

Cheers from CCF,

Ryan Marcel Sucaet

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Cheetah males rewilded, landscapes and VIP visitors.

We hope you enjoy these photos taken during the release of Ombdillo, Anakin, Obi-wan and Chester last Sunday. They are now in the 4,000-ha Bellebenno training camp and doing great and by Wednesday had already made their first kill!
The release team. (c) Cheetah Conservation Fund
The first kill. (c) Cheetah Conservation Fund
These have been exciting days here. On Tuesday, we were in Windhoek for the launch of the Namibia Protected Landscape Conservation Areas Initiative (NAM-Place), which establishes five protected landscape conservation areas to address threats to habitat and species loss on a landscape-level approach. One of these areas is the Greater Waterberg Complex, where we have done lots of livestock and wildlife management training for about four years, and includes the Eastern Communal area conservancies, the Waterberg Plateau Park and the Waterberg Conservancy.

NAM-Place, funded by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), strengthens the Namibian government’ steady commitment to environmental protection and sustainable natural resource management, as stated by the Minister of Environment and Tourism, the Hon. Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwa, during her inaugural speech on Tuesday.

The Minister of the Environment and Tourism and our Greater Waterberg Complex group. (c) Cheetah Conservation Fund
We were also honoured to host the U.S. Ambassador to Namibia, Wanda Nesbitt here at CCF yesterday. It was great showing her around our Centre and sharing information about our work with her.
Amb. Nesbitt with Laurie. (c) Cheetah Conservation Fund
Cheetah purrs to all!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Four Cheetahs Out, Three Cheetahs In.

Last Monday, only two days before collaring Ombdillo, Anakin, Obi-wan and Chester for release, CCF collected three cheetah cubs trapped by a farmer near Hochfeld. They were trapped with their mother, but sadly she was shot by the farmer, leaving the young cubs as orphans at approximately four months old.

We would like to clarify that the farm where the cubs were collected was not the same farm where the cheetah mother was shot. In fact, this farm rescued the cubs from the other farm. We apologise for not explaining this important fact. The farmer that called CCF was in fact helping the cubs and we truly appreciate his involvement. The picture below was taken at the farm where the cubs were cared for while awaiting to be picked up by CCF staff.

The cubs on their way to CCF
Once at CCF, the cubs were anaesthetised the following morning for a health check-up and sample collection by Laurie Marker, CCF veterinarian Dr. Gaby Flacke, veterinary nurse Rosie Glazier, cheetah husbandry team Juliette Erdstieck and Rachel Shairp, as well as several interns and two working guests.

The workups
The cubs, all males, had no trauma wounds, although they were quite thin from not having eaten for several days while in the trap. They were given vaccinations and treatments for de-worming and flea/tick prevention, as well as transponder microchips for identification purposes.

Two of the three Hochfeld cubs
So far the cubs are doing fine and although they are very shy and scared, they are eating well and seem healthy. They will live at CCF and hopefully one day will be able to be released into the wild.

What happened with these cubs is exactly the type of situation that CCF aims to avoid through education and outreach programs to teach people that there are many ways to prevent and reduce predator conflict issues, other than shooting the predator. As it is customary, the CCF staff invited the farmer to learn more about predator-friendly farming tools.

In the meantime, we are excited about the release of the four collared males into the 4,000-ha training camp tomorrow. Stay tuned!


Thursday, 10 November 2011

Preparation for the Release of Four Leopard Pen Males

Just over a year ago, I was here at CCF monitoring the Chocolates and Chanel --four captive female cheetahs that beat all odds to become wild, self-sufficient cats now living at Erindi. This year I will hopefully be doing a similar story.

We just collared four of CCF’s resident male cheetah males living in the Leopard Pen: Ombdillo, Chester, Anakin and Obi-wan. In preparation for this, the CCF keepers fed them their first carcass a few days earlier. To simulate a hunt, we made them work for their meal by having them run around the fence a couple of times. This coalition will be released on Saturday into the 4,000-ha Bellebenno camp to begin their training for a life of freedom.

We decided to give them an unopened carcass to observe how well (or not well) they could open it. Opening a carcass is quite a challenging and complicated task. It can take quite a bit of effort from the cheetahs and they must also have good enough teeth to accomplish this task quickly. Ombdillo, being the one who arrived at CCF at an older age and had experienced life in the wild, was the first to feed. It didn’t take long for the other three to join, and so far, all four cats showed promising behaviors that are indicative of that of wild cheetahs

It is always exciting watching and recording behavioural information on cheetahs just prior to their release because you get to see how their behaviours and individual characteristics are in captivity. In the wilds of Bellebenno the cats may take on completely different roles compared to that in captivity. Over time I will be able to record these changes and see how these dynamic cats learn to be wild again.

I believe that the first week of the release will be the most exciting. In this time we will hopefully see who makes the first kill (or kill attempt), who scent marks the most, or who the other cats follow. But for now, we are confident that these healthy boys will be very successful in Bellebenno.

Cheers from CCF,

Ryan Marcel Sucaet

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Young Dairy Goats Having a "Field Day'

CCF’s farm provides the opportunity to practice and experiment with optimum methods of livestock and non-lethal farm management practices, especially acting as a showcase model of success. Goats and sheep are an essential part of CCF’s livestock guarding dog programme. In 2009,CCF began making fresh goat cheese using the milk from CCF’s dairy goats. The programme aims to facilitate training and skill development around the production of goat dairy products, enables livelihood diversification, and provides supplemental income to community members.

Last week on the 3 November the baby dairy goats were taken out for “exploring and grazing” for the first time.  They go out together (14 of them) and are supervised by a livestock guarding dog and one of the kraal staff.  The babies range in age from 4 months to as young as 1 month.  Grazing and browsing helps them develop their rumen (fermentation stomach) in the weaning process.  Exploring the world around then also helps with normal social development and keeps them entertained.  All went well and the goats seemed to enjoy themselves very much!  They found one particular woodpile quite fun to play on and around.


Friday, 4 November 2011

Uschi gives birth to Eight Future Livestock Guarding Dogs.

CCF's Anatolian shepherd Uschi gave birth to eight healthy pups yesterday: five females and three males. All are healthy and suckling well, and are quickly putting on weight. Uschi is behaving like a perfect mother while allowing us to monitor her puppies closely. Last year she was a bit too protective of her puppies but she now seems to be more comfortable when we have to handle them.

Enjoy the photos!

Rosie Glazier, DVN
Veterinary Nurse

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Road to Freedom for Two Female Cheetahs?


On Sunday, 30 October, we immobilised and placed radio tracking collars on Xena and Luna, the first two females planned for release. Both females are now in a small pen, awaiting release into the Bellebenno 4,000-hectare camp. The collars are VHF and GPS combination collars for traditional radio-tracking but their movements will also be followed via download of data from GPS satellite. All went well and the cats are tolerating their new collars well. Once they've learn to hunt on their own, they will be considered for release into the wild, hopefully with a group of males which will be immobilised and collared later this year.

Rosie, Gaby, Laurie and Rob collaring one of the females.
Today, the Husbandry team gave Xena and Luna a warthog carcass as part of their “training.”

"Training" to become hunters.

Gaby (CCF's Vet)