In Namibia, April arrives with the flurry and frenzy of annuals in the air:
Most of us are familiar with that feeling we get about once a year when we realize it’s time to make a doctor’s appointment. It’s a hassle and a drag, but it must be done. Now imagine planning annual examinations for 50 cheetahs to be performed over a three-week period. Most of these cheetahs are wild animals that understandably take offense to being placed in a wooden box or darted with tranquilizer. This daunting task makes dragging a kid to the dentist look like a walk in the park.
But the CCF staff are not lacking in knowledge, training, or experience. These experts run the show like a well-oiled machine, working tirelessly to ensure these precious creatures receive the most thorough health examinations whilst undergoing the least amount of stress. The team is the cheetah’s tenacious advocates, ensuring the resident cheetahs have the most optimistic prospects for success in the release program and ultimately survival as wild cheetahs.
The clinic and cheetah husbandry teams are happy to report that this year’s annuals ran smoothly and that all resident cheetahs are in good health. A few individual cheetahs required additional medical treatment or supplemental procedures performed while under anaesthesia for their annual examination, though none of them will suffer from any lasting health problems.
Notes from the clinic:
As tough and strong as big cats’ teeth may seem, cheetahs sometimes need the dentist, too. During his annual examination, Darwin received a visit from our local dentist in town for a replacement root canal. The old root canal was resealed and Darwin received a clean bill of health. He was then released along with the other three “Scientist” males, Livingstone, Fossey, and Mendel into a soft-release training camp to prepare for eventual release into the wild (see previous blog).
Ron, a smaller, young male was castrated in the hopes that he will eventually rejoin his sisters in their camp. There were no complications during the procedure and he recovered without incident.
During daily cheetah husbandry, the cheetah keepers noticed Deborah, a young female, making unusual coughing and retching motions. During her annual examination the following day, the source of the unusual behaviour was discovered: Deborah had a 1.5 centimetre piece of bone lodged between two molars that had also caused a secondary laceration and ulceration on the bottom of her tongue. The bone was removed and the affected area cleaned. She appears returned to full fitness and is eating and acting normally once more.
The clinic team successfully collected blood, scat, vaginal and semen samples from all cheetahs for analysis and subsequent treatment of any abnormality. Hair samples will be studied, as will any ectoparasites (ticks, fleas, flies) collected. With clean bills of health, life for CCF cheetahs returns to normal. The cheetahs will continue to be monitored on a daily basis as always by the cheetah husbandry team and in conjunction with the clinic team when needed. Overall, annual exams were a success!
A special thank you goes to all volunteers, especially Dr. Martha Johnson (human anaesthesiologist) and Karen and Mike Burke (cheetah keeper and animal trainer from the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park) for all their help and hard work!
Molly Stock - Intern
Photos copyright © of Cheetah Conservation Fund 2012