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Monday, 30 January 2012

Xena and Luna: The First 8 Days of Freedom

22 January 2012 - Day 1

As you read on Laurie's report, two of our female cheetahs, Xena and Luna, were released today into the 4,000-ha Bellebenno game camp. Once all the CCF staff, interns and guests left, Rachel and I stayed with the cheetahs. They ate the carcass we fed them without any aggression towards each other. Xena protected it from us several times by charging at us, then slapping and hissing. The remainder of the evening it rained, forcing Rachel and I to leave them. It will be interesting if we find them together tomorrow.

23 January 2012 - Day 2

The cheetahs, with their massive bellies, were surprisingly still together at the carcass. After such a meal, it was expected that they would rest all day. It was not until around 18:00 when Xena began to drift away from Luna, exploring her new freedom. She let Rachel and I follow her for a short while, but in this time we witnessed her clawing at a tree with her front paws, a sign of marking. Eventually she seemed to become “annoyed” of our presence and ran off. Then the rains came and Rachel and I had to retreat back to the car and ultimately leave them.

24 January 2012 - Day 3

Today Xena and Luna were still separated, but not by more than 300-500m. They were independently seen walking along the puddle-filled roads most of the morning (at different times and in different places). We followed them, but both would constantly turn around to check on us then run away. Rachel and I decided it best to leave them alone as to not alter their natural behaviour. The heavy rains came again as the sun went down. Unfortunately the tracking equipment does not function properly in the rain so we left them for the night.

25 January 2012 - Day 4
Luna (CCF archive photo)
We found Luna first this morning. She allowed us to stay watching her as she rested in the grass. A bold Black-Backed jackal approached her and then swiftly ran away. This caught Luna’s attention and she chased after it. As we tried to keep up, we then found her running directly past us, but this time she was hunting a female steenbok! Unfortunately the attempt was unsuccessful. Afterwards, Rachel and I went to find Xena but were having a very difficult time pinpointing her exact location. Then suddenly we found her about two metres up a tree, utilising its height for an improved vantage point. She clumsily circled around in the fork of the tree before jumping down to land. In the afternoon we found Luna in a very open area with few trees or bushes. We later discovered she made her FIRST KILL! It was a warthog piglet and she nearly consumed the entire animal. Xena avoided us the entire evening sprinting away from us whenever we approached. They were still in the same general location of one another, but not together.

26 January 2012 - Day 5

This morning was another day of following an endlessly beeping receiver. The cheetahs would run away from Rachel and me before we had a chance to even see them, therefore we would track them without seeing them. They did leave trace amounts of their spoor on the still muddy roads. We could tell one of them drank from a puddle in the road. In the afternoon we found Xena and she was on her FIRST KILL! It was a warthog piglet and the kill was made in the same general area as Luna’s first kill (open bush). Later we found Luna; she had moved 3km since the morning. She was in completely new territory covered in extremely thick acacia bushes. Only after 5 days and I am more than confident these females would be able to live in the wild.

27 January 2012 - Day 6

While tracking Xena and Luna in the morning, we first found Luna. Being that it was still dark outside, we used our torches (flashlights) and saw her green eye shine peering through the grasses. Earlier in the week we found Xena while it was still dark and she had red-orange eye shine. This is interesting to note because it has been thought and taught that predators only have orange eye shine while prey species have green. Eye shine results from a layer of cells behind the retina, called tapetum lucidum, that reflects light. It is most commonly seen in nocturnal animals that need this reflective layer to enhance night vision.

Xena (CCF archive photo)
In the evening, we found Xena again and this time she was very defensive. She then picked up a carcass in her jaws. It was her second kill in two consecutive days; another warthog piglet! She is proving herself very adaptable to her newly wild environment. Luna on the other hand seems to continue moving eastbound through Bellebenno further away from her release mate.

28 January 2012 - Day 7

Today we found Luna before she began moving. We found her decently close to camp as she began her morning awakening. Starting with repeated yawns, autogrooming, scratching her back on the stiff grass, and then getting up to stretch. She later began walking and stood upon a termite mound gazing all around. Throughout the entirety of the day and night, Xena avoided Rachel and me, running away from us whenever we approached. In the evening Luna made her second kill, another warthog piglet. This year in Bellebenno, there has been a massive warthog piglet outbreak and their population seems to be exponentially growing. Having Xena and Luna in Bellebenno will keep the warthog population in check, proving the cheetahs’ role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

29 January 2012 - Day 8

Surprisingly, Xena let Rachel and me follow her this morning. We watched as she began walking into the bush, then running, and then bouncing. It was behaviour I have never seen before in a cheetah. As she continued bouncing through the bush we then heard a warthog piglet squealing. It appeared she was teasingly playing with the piglet. She could have easily killed the warthog if she wanted to, but she seemed more interested in the playful chase. This was good to note that she was not just killing everything that moved and that she only hunted when hungry. The rest of the evening was dedicated to following their signals on the receiver. They were moving and did not want us to catch up to them. When we left them were in the same general area.

Will send photos as soon as we can.


Monday, 23 January 2012

Two Female Cheetahs Released in Bellebenno Training Camp

We just released two female cheetahs scheduled for re-wilding, Luna and Xena. The release went very smoothly, with the two cats running after the feeding bakkie out the gate of their holding area into CCF’s 4,000-ha Bellebeno game camp, which is used for re-wilding. The two females were fitted with satellite collars to follow movements throughout the day and night. CCF rangers Ryan and Rachel will be tracking them as well. The cats were fed a carcass and settled down after eating. They appeared interested in their new area and I’m sure will begin exploring this evening. We will provide updates as often as possible to keep everyone posted on their progress.
Xena and Luna release into the Bellebenno 4,000-ha game camp.
The release occurred at 1pm today with a team of CCF staff and interns watching (and getting stuck in a hole). It's raining really hard – nearly 50 mm in a couple hours this evening.
Other exciting events at CCF include goat kids being born (2 female dairy kids born today), along with lambs being born daily (15 more to go). We are also expecting another liter of LSGD at the end of the month to Kari, who is looking really healthy, and our scat-detection dogs are really liking their new trainer, Adam.
CCF's Dog Trainer Adam Bean with scant-detection dogs, Finn and Uschi.
We have had many special visitors: the British High Commissioner was here last weekend with her family, a group of learners from a Swedish high school spent two days with us this week, a group of teachers from the Pacific Lutheran College in Washington State who are doing internships in Windhoek schools, a group who were Peace Corp volunteers 19 years ago, and Dr. Rob Fleischer, the geneticist from the National Zoo in the US.
Pacific Lutheran College (Washington State) visited CCF.
British High Commissioner, Marianne Young, and her family, with CCF staff, interns and volunteers.
Cheetah purrs,


Sunday, 22 January 2012

Six more puppies placed on farms.

The surgeries.
On 9 and 10 January, we surgically sterilised Uschi’s litter of puppies prior to their placement on farms as livestock guarding dogs. CCF's veterinary nurse Rosie Glazier and veterinary nurse intern Stephanie Pearce assisted me with the surgeries, which went very well.
Future livestock guarding dogs go to their new homes.
Once sterilised, the six puppies were ready to go to their new homes. One female and two males left CCF on 14 January and another female and male left on 15 January. The last remaining puppy will be sent to its new home end of the month when her new owner returns from a trip. As usual, the receiving farmers went through CCF's one-day mandatory "puppy information day" that covers care and training of livestock guarding dogs as well as predator-friendly livestock management.
CCF's Gail Potgieter explains care and training of future livestock guarding dogs to a farmer.
All of the puppies seemed very excited, and the farmers were all very happy to receive their puppies that will help to protect their livelihoods as well as help to safeguard Namibia’s predator populations.


Friday, 20 January 2012

Students leave, cheetahs show up, and more from the Ecology Team.

Two of our students from the Van Hall Larenstein in the Netherlands will be leaving us at the weekend, which is a sad time for us. Teresia Robitschko undertook a project to determine the extent of human-wildlife conflict in a number of conservancies across Namibia. The results of her research highlight the need for more training in effective livestock husbandry management, such as the Farmer’s Day courses run at CCF. Marieke Reijneker analysed four years of data from waterhole counts in Bellebenno game camp and discovered that rainfall has an effect on the population counts of warthog and eland. Instead of coming to drink at the waterhole, these species instead use surface water to quench their thirst, which underestimates the population counts.

The wild female cheetah with her five cubs that were released on 10 December 2011 have been tracked by a satellite collar to determine their movements. Over the last month the mother went south onto our neighbour’s property, north-east to the edge of the Waterberg Plateau and now is heading back onto CCF land! We hope that she is still with her cubs (including her adopted ones) but can only be sure when we catch a visual of her. It is possible her presence will be picked up by our camera traps on our property if she decides to stick around.

Tracking the Wild Mom and her cubs.

Our resident male cheetah, HiFi, had his radio collar replaced last month as we were finding it hard to get a signal from it with our radio-tracking equipment. Since then we have picked up a strong signal from him at least 4 times per week and have spotted him frequently on our camera traps.

HiFi caught on camera
As mentioned on Laurie's Field Notes in December, we are preparing for the release of two of CCF's resident female cheetahs into our training grounds in the Bellebenno game camp. This is always an exciting time for us at CCF as it allows us to determine how ready for the wild each individual cat is with the hope of eventual release in the future. We shall keep you updated as to their progress.

Niki Rust

Friday, 13 January 2012

Cheetah Update from Laurie

Hi! It's been so busy. Sorry we have been out of touch! Just this week...

One of our Kangal dogs (Firat) was gored by a warthog and had emergency surgery on Monday. We neutered all our puppies on Monday and Tuesday so they will be ready for placement with farmers this Saturday, when they participate in a Farmer’s Day and then take their puppies. We had a film crew here on Tuesday filming for Hostel Life. They managed to film everything in one day!
Firat's surgery.
Today we took Klein to the dentist, and have been taking care of three new sheep born in the last three days. And last night we ran the four OK cubs out in the field, at the corner area where we ran Chewbaaka for 14 was exciting to see them all running together with the Waterberg Plateau in the background. Our big team of interns and volunteers (and our small staff) enjoyed watching.
CCF's interns, volunteers and staff at the Big Field with the OK cubs.
Never a dull moment.

For those who haven't heard yet, we made our 2011 year-end match! We could not have done it without the incredible support and commitment from many of you to save the wild cheetah from extinction.