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Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Xena and Luna: Weeks 3 & 4

7 February 2012 - Day 17

In the morning we mostly followed Luna through the previously burnt area of Bellebenno. At one point Erlend and I scared an adult female steenbok that ran away from us, passing a very relaxed Luna. Luna heard the approaching antelope, sat up and instantly began chasing the steenbok through the open bush. When we finally caught up with her, she had already given up the chase and stopped at a puddle shaded by dense bushes. As she drank, she was extremely vigilant looking up and around at any foreign sound. This cautious behavior was refreshing to observe because when any wild animal drinks, it is at its most vulnerable state, thus constant attention is needed to escape approaching danger. She drank on and off for eight minutes. Afterwards we went to Xena’s duiker carcass from yesterday. As I approached the kill to observe the remaining parts, Xena exploded out of the yellow flowers only 10m away. She charged me for getting too close to her kill, with her shoulders erect, head down and eyes pinned on me. I backed off and she returned to the kill, picked up the duiker by its ear then continued to feed. In the evening Luna moved 2.38km from her position earlier in the morning and Xena abandoned her kill. Only a few parts remained. I also observed some conspicuous claw marks in the soil beside the carcass.

8 February 2012 - Day 18

While searching for Xena, we accidentally found Luna. She was very tired and wet so we instantly left her to search for Xena. Four hours and many travelled hectares later, Joel (CCF intern from Holland) and I gave up our search for the morning. In the afternoon (after a torrential storm), a similar situation unfolded. We unintentionally found Luna again, this time nearly 3km from her spot this morning. It was not until 19:14 (after another 3.5hrs searching) that we had our first signal for Xena. We got a visual for her just as the sun was setting. She still had a large belly from her duiker kill. It is still a mystery to me how she escaped our tracking equipment all morning, afternoon and evening. We call her Xena “The Phantom Cheetah” as a result.

9 February 2012 - Day 19

After Joel and I rid our clothing and skin from the hundreds of pepper ticks crawling across our bodies, we went to look for Xena for the second time today. Instead we found her spoor all over the roads, seemingly hunting warthogs. The tracks showed that as she hunted one warthog, it ran through a swing gate to escape. At this gate, Xena’s tracks abruptly stop, ending the hunt. We found her later, and she did not appear to have eaten again, although she looked healthy and fit. In the evening, when we found Luna, we sat with her as she lied beside the road. When we began to drive away, she instantly got up and began walking again. It seemed she waited for us to leave before moving! We observed her from our car as she walked away into the bush. If she does not make a kill tonight or tomorrow morning we will have to supplement feed Luna.

10 February 2012 - Day 20

In the morning Xena darted away from us and we could not find Luna, although we did observe her spoor walking along the wet road with brown hyena tracks beside hers. Later we found Luna in a completely new territory. She was actually close to where we last saw Xena, near the Bellebenno entrance. When we found her, lying just beside the road/fenceline, she was not alert and nearly sleeping with her front paws crossed. She seemed comfortable with our presence, especially compared to Xena. Although I am certain Luna has been feeding (just not observed) I supplement fed her anyway as she appeared hungry and lethargic throughout the evening.

11 February 2012 - Day 21

Joel and I found Luna first thing in the morning. She was still sleeping in the wet grasses and was located only 200m from where we supplement fed her last night. The rest of the morning (4+ hours) was dedicated to trying to find Xena. In the evening we got a signal for Luna heading away from the entrance gates and nothing for Xena. We spent the small remainder of daylight successfully getting our extremely stuck vehicle out of a muddy road.

12 February 2012 - Day 22

Luna was once again sighted in the same general area as before (near the entrance gates) and Xena was still missing. We are beginning to assume that she has escaped the game camp. In the evening we found Luna again only 30m from a road feeding on a kill! This time she was tearing open a sub-adult female steenbok (~7kg) beneath the shade of an acacia bush. This was the third species (that we observed) she has killed. Luna ate for nearly an hour, consuming all but the skin/fur, head, leg bones and G.I. tract. She choked on some of the smaller rib bones but eventually continued feeding as normal. When finished, Luna slowly walked 3m from the carcass and slept the remainder of the evening.

13 February 2012 - Day 23

After a late start, I received a message from Rob (CCF’s Technical Specialist) explaining that Xena has escaped the Bellebenno game camp and is making her way towards the Big Field, a large plot of savannah-like habitat with few encroaching acacia bushes. We tried to find her based on this information, but it seemed that she had already moved away from her last location. Throughout the day we found Luna. She was either sleeping or lying, not alert in the shade digesting her meal

14 February 2012 - Day 24

Once again we observed Luna sleeping away the majority of the day. Erlend and I spent the afternoon searching for Xena in the Big Field. Unfortunately we could not find her again, but in our search we had the privilege of observing three ostriches (2 male, 1 female), a rock monitor lizard and a paradise wydah!

15 February 2012 - Day 25

In the morning, Joel and I found Luna lying in a large bed of grasses. She remained there even when she was completely exposed to the morning sun. Usually cheetahs will go find the best shade, but she seemed too comfortable to even move. Later we observed Luna hunting a steenbok through the bush. She was only metres behind the prey, but the chase ended unsuccessfully. She slept under acacia bushes the rest of the evening as a massive storm approached us.

16 February 2012 - Day 26

Today was decided to dart (anaesthetise) Luna to remove her radio tracking collar and place her back in captivity – temporarily! Here is CCF vet's report:

"Luna had proven herself to be a good huntress and had brought down a variety of smaller prey animals in the almost four-week period she had been out. Since she was going to have to be immobilised anyway, she also had her annual examination and vaccinations at the same time. She was found to be in very good condition, quite lean, with a healthy hair coat and a low tick burden. She had a full set of samples collected, including blood and urine samples, vaginal cytology, hair, a dental exam, and ultrasound exam of her abdomen and kidneys. She was vaccinated for Feline Distemper and Rabies, and had Frontline applied for tick prevention. The team who worked with her in the field included CCF veterinarian Dr. Gabriella Flacke, volunteer veterinarian Dr. Erina Young, veterinary nurse Rosie Glazier, cheetah husbandry team members Rachel Shairp and Ryan Saucet, and two volunteer zoo keepers from Norway, Erland and Jimmy. Everything went well, and now that she has proven herself, hopefully Luna will soon be released into the “real wild” again in the near future."

Luna was then placed her in a small holding pen where I observed her as she recovered from the anaesthesia.

18 February 2012 - Day 28

While leading the track for Xena, followed by Deg (CCF Bushblok) and Juliette, I came across an adult female steenbok kill wedged beneath a small bush. I instantly knew it was Xena’s and quickly backed away from the carcass. No more than five seconds later a hidden Xena came charging the three of us away from her kill. We gave her the space she needed and listened as she began feeding off the steenbok. Her kill was made in a completely open area with crippling tall yellow grasses that would seem quite difficult for a cheetah to hunt in, once again showing the adaptability of this amazing female.

20 & 21 February 2012 - Days 30 & 31

Only having to track Xena now, Rachel found our free female on both days. On the 20th she was seen sitting on a termite mound then walking away. On the 21st she was observed near the edge of the Big Field. As it rained so heavily, Xena approached the car and Rachel decided to leave.

23 February 2012 - Day 33

I found Xena today lying under a very small bush in the Big Field. She seemed hot, as she heavily panted beneath a small fragment of shade. I left her alone as she began walking, obviously trying to get away from me.

We will continue to keep you posted!

Ryan and all the Husbandry Team

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Dog encounters warthog!

Firat, one of our breeding male Kangal dogs, had a serious encounter with a warthog in early January.  He was gored through the abdomen with a tusk and sustained wounds that went through his intestines. He endured a four-hour surgery to put his intestines back together and flush and clean out his abdomen. His recovery was slow but after several days he started doing very well. After losing several kilograms he also started eating well and gaining weight again. He is now back to his pre-surgical, healthy weight and is feeling fine. The fur over his abdomen and on his front leg where his IV catheter was placed is even starting to grow back. Firat is a lucky dog, as the injury could have easily resulted in death if the CCF veterinary team had not gotten him to surgery so quickly after the incident. A special thank you to Paige Seitz and Stephanie Pearce, our interns who nursed him back to health after his surgery. He will now live to father many more litters of future livestock guarding dog puppies. For an update on the latest litter he sired see our blog update on Kiri’s puppies


Attached are two recent pictures of him; posing for the camera and sniffing a tree!





Saturday, 25 February 2012

CCF's Kangal puppies growin strong and healthy

Kiri's litter of eight Kangal puppies born on 31 January are growing fast!

Last week they all started opening their eyes, they took their first steps,
had their first meal of "solid" food, and received their first dose of
de-worming medication. Kiri is a proud mother, and watches on as her puppies
grow and become more independent. The puppies are playful and full of
mischief, and are already starting to have individual personalities. They
will stay at CCF until they are nine weeks old, at which time we will hold
the usual "Puppy Day" to train farmers that have been selected to receive
the puppies to help keep their livestock safe from predators.

We have included photos of the proud mom and cute pups!

The CCF Vet Team

Saturday, 18 February 2012

A Sad Day for CCF

At CCF we strive to keep all of our captive cheetahs healthy and “happy,” providing the best quality of life possible for our animals. Klein came to CCF on17 May, 2001, when he was about a year old. In July 2009, he developed some mysterious lesions on his left legs, both the front and the back. As anyone who has followed his story via the CCF blog and through being at CCF is aware, this mysterious skin condition was eventually diagnosed as Herpes Viral Dermatitis. Herpes virus is species-specific, meaning cats get cat Herpes and humans get human Herpes, etc. Herpes virus in cats usually causes an upper respiratory infection, ocular discharge, nasal congestion, and sometimes skin lesions around the eyes and nose and in the mouth. Klein has been a unique case all along, with moderate to severe lesions on his left legs instead of around his nose and eyes.

In order to try and help Klein, CCF contacted experts around the globe since the problem developed. We consulted with zoo veterinarians, veterinary pathologists, veterinarians who specifically work with cheetahs in the wild and in captivity, and numerous pharmacologists, virologists and specialists from both human and veterinary medicine. We tried all of the therapies that have been recommended, and over the years had varied success in improving the lesions on his legs. With more intensive therapy, the lesions improve; when we try to “leave him be” and not anesthetise him for treatments, the lesions worsen.

With the help and input of all these experts, and with the unfaltering dedication of the CCF medical and husbandry team, Klein has been handled with expertise and compassion. He has received every treatment that has been recommended, often multiple times. He improves and then he worsens. Unfortunately, his ongoing skin problem was caused by a virus that his immune system could not beat; a virus that has showed itself to be challenging (to say the least) to manage, a virus that led to ulcerated lesions on the skin of his left legs that came and went depending on the intensity of treatment.

Starting in October 2011 the CCF’s vet team started very intensive treatment of Klein, in hopes of once and for all healing the skin lesion so he could have some time to be a “normal” cheetah. He was 12 years old, suffering also from chronic kidney disease, and diagnosed with a suspected cancer of the left anal gland. We anesthetised him every 4 to 10 days for cryotherapy, bandage changes, and intensive supportive care. His skin lesions improved, and everyone was encouraged despite the fact that we were not happy having to anesthetise him so often. We were hopeful that once we got things under control, we could stop his frequent treatments and he would have some time to live a normal life without Herpes skin disease. However, as soon as this intensive treatment stopped, new, aggressive, spreading skin wounds reappeared.

Yesterday, 17 February 2012, Klein was anesthetised for another cryotherapy treatment of new, ulcerated skin lesions on his left front and hind legs. We collected his urine and it was dark and bloody, indicating decreased kidney function. His anal gland was was thickened and enlarged, consistent with progression of the cancer. New lesions were found on his legs --no matter how hard we were chasing this disease, the Herpes was winning the race.

Everyone at CCF loved Klein with all their hearts, which is why the decision to euthanise him was so difficult and heart-wrenching. We want to think that he has gone to a better place, to run in the African bushveld in the sky, where there are plenty of antelope to eat, where there is no Herpes, and where there is no pain and suffering. Klein will live forever in our hearts, as he himself had the strongest heart, fighting his disease bravely until the end. We did not want him to feel any more pain, and we wish him all the best on his onward journey to another life.

Goodbye Klein, we love you.

Gaby and all the CCF staff

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Xena and Luna: Week 2

30 January 2012 - Day 9

Warthogs (archive photo) - (c) CCF
After finding Xena in the morning, we observed as she walked past a warthog den. Suddenly three sub-adult warthogs exploded out of their den, scaring Xena in the process. She jolted backwards and then ran away from the pigs. She began walking away and another warthog unexpectedly ran past her. She slapped at the ground and hissed in her nervous yet defensive state. Luna slept the majority of the day. In the evening we searched for the girls for an hour with no signal on our receiver. Then I nearly got stuck in the road (due to the mud) followed by an extremely flat tire, and finally the storm. The girls were unfortunately not found.

31 January 2012 - Day 10

It was a long morning of searching for the girls. When we found Xena she was nearly 4km from where we last saw her yesterday morning and Luna was also in a new, very dense bushed, area. In the evening we found Xena’s spoor on the road. From looking at her tracks, which were deep in the sand and nearly a meter apart with the claw marks were heavily visible, we determined that she was sprinting. There were warthog piglet tracks everywhere as well. When we found her, she was nearly sleeping under a bush, without a kill. Afterwards we found Luna and next to her WAS a kill! Kill #3 (observed): an adult female duiker (small antelope). On our arrival, the duiker was still untouched. After five minutes of observation, Luna began licking the hair on the duiker intensely. She then opened the carcass and began to feed. It was amazing that she even allowed Rachel and me to watch! Throughout the feeding, she was extremely vigilant, looking around and picking her head up at any conspicuous sound. This is great behaviour to see from a solitary female, which has to be vigilant in order to guard her kill or flee due to other larger predators.
Duikers (archive photo) - (c) CCF

1 February 2012 - Day 11

We found Luna still at her carcass this morning. She looked miserably wet as it rained most of the morning. The duiker’s entire hindquarters were eaten and Luna had a massive belly. We later found Xena (after another storm) and she had moved 2km from yesterday. It appears she is following the perimeter of Bellebenno. If she continues this route she could possibly cross paths with Luna again. The rest of the day and evening was rainy and prevented Rachel and I from tracking the girls. Our campsite had nearly 55mL of rain in one day! Bellebenno is flooded.

2 February 2012 - Day 12

After helping Rachel up from her colossal plunge into a stagnant puddle, we found Luna still at her kill. She dragged the duiker carcass about 25m and all that remained were the head, skin and bones. In the afternoon/evening, Jimmy (CCF volunteer from Denmark) and I found Xena in the same general area as yesterday. I decided it was time to supplement feed her, as we had not seen her with a kill or engorged belly in several days. She took her 1kg of donkey meat (on a bone) and ran away from us. Luna was later found about 400m from her kill site and she was still resting and digesting her three-day meal. Tomorrow I predict both females will be on the move again, investigating new areas of Bellebenno.

Later Jimmy and I had the privilege of spotting an African Wild Cat as well as a Hammerkop bird in a puddle! We also saw spoor of a wild male cheetah near our captive females’ camp.

African Wild Cat -

3 February 2012 - Day 13

In the evening Jimmy and I discovered Luna’s spoor all along Bellebenno’s eastern corner, along the fence line, approaching swing gates and even running. Around her tracks were those of oryx, warthog, jackal and even aardvark. When we found Luna she was laying beside her fourth kill, another warthog piglet. It was unopened so we left to find Xena. Five kilometres away we located her and she instantly charged us. I noticed some dry blood on her face as she approached. As we backed off, we stumbled upon a severely injured warthog piglet. It must have escaped from Xena and hid before Jimmy and I scared it. Xena was caught in a moment of choice between hunting down the escaping/hobbling piglet and keeping us away: she chose to hunt. She killed the piglet by severing its spinal column, biting the back of the piglet’s neck (usually the jaw of a cheetah is too weak to do this, but not in the case of piglets). She finished eating in nearly 42 minutes and then rested. At the end of the night we returned to Luna who was already walking down the road. She abandoned her carcass after eating only the shoulder, back and neck; the rest was left for the flies and scavengers. She then continued to a puddle where she drank on and off (extremely vigilantly) for nearly nine minutes before vanishing into the bush. Within two weeks, both cheetahs are already proving themselves quite capable of handling the wild.

4 February 2012 - Day 14

Today was the laziest day of observing cheetahs throughout the entirety of the three releases I have done. Every time we checked on them, they were sleeping. From 06:30-19:50 they remained in their same general areas (venturing no further than 30m), in the shade, and seemingly without concerns. They were about 6km apart each digesting their warthog kills.

5 February 2012 - Day 15

Erlend (CCF volunteer from Norway) and I found Xena and Luna early this morning in the same areas we left them last night. Luna remains in the eastern-most corner of Bellebenno, while Xena utilizes the southern-most. It may be safe to assume that both of them have found their preferred area of the 4,000-ha game camp. Xena has stopped following the perimeter and has been found near the entrance of the game camp. Luna, on the other hand, is closer to where all of the game animals (zebra, oryx and recently eland) gather to feed. These grazers have come to a previously burnt area of land, where fresh green pioneer grasses are located. Although both females have showed a very promising set of behavioural adaptations since their release, it will be interesting to see what other prey they can hunt. Warthog piglets will not be around forever and they will have to learn to hunt other species.

6 February 2012 - Day 16

In the afternoon Erlend and I were struck by a massive lightning storm as we were tracking Xena. Considering it is unsafe to track with a metal antenna in an open bushveld, we ran to the car and waited for the storm to pass. Afterwards we found Xena and she was guarding a kill! This marks her fourth kill and it was a juvenile duiker! The area where the kill was made seemed unpractical for a cheetah to hunt. The area was generally open, but the invasive yellow flowers were nearly 1.5m tall and very difficult to walk through. The kill must have been by ambush due to low visibility. Xena is headed more northeast away from the black entrance gates closer to Luna, who walked up and down the road several times today, but generally stayed in the same area sleeping throughout the day.

Cheers from the bush,

Ryan Marcel Sucaet
Head of Cheetah Reintroductions

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Kangal Puppies Born Yesterday

On 21 November 2011, CCF took custody of an intact female Kangal dog named
Kiri as her owners were unable to house her whilst in heat. The 2-year old
female was in heat when she arrived at CCF and was bred to 18-month old
Firat in November.
She started giving birth at noon yesterday and had a total of 8 healthy
puppies during the afternoon: five males and three females.

This is Kiri's first litter; she's is doing a great job and knows exactly
what to do. All the puppies are strong and have already gained weight since

Thank you and regards,

Rosie Glazier, DVN
Veterinary Nurse