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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

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