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Friday, 22 March 2013

Play Tree & Scat Dog Visit to Rolf Ritter's Farm

One of the projects we are currently undertaking is to investigate which physical and environmental characteristics influence the selection of cheetahs scent marking trees, locally known as play trees. In 2005, a camera survey was started at a number of play trees, both on CCF land and neighbouring farms as part of developing census techniques for free ranging cheetahs. Identifying potential locations for camera placement is crucial for increasing the probability of cheetah captures.

Namibian cheetahs are known to frequent play trees for territorial marking and social interactions. Play trees, once present in a habitat, can provide valuable census data on known individuals occupying a particular home-range. However, there are instances where play trees are difficult to identify, or are absent in a given habitat. CCF quantified key characteristics around play trees including visitation rates by cheetahs, prey abundance, habitat type and presence of con-specific predators on its farms and the land of a local farmer, Mr Ralf Ritter.
In January 2013 three of CCF’s staff members, accompanied by Tiger, a CCF scat detection springer spaniel dog,  visited a number of play trees on Mr Ritter's farm for scat sample collection, taking pictures of the trees themselves as well as some extra measurements. The scat samples are used to analyse cheetahs’ diet and study biomedical aspects. 
Stephanus helping to take measurements of play trees

We travelled for almost half a day to reach our destination. The weather was hot and dry and our morale kept us going. As always, we were made to feel very welcome on the farm. Our sniffing friend was the centre of attention for the day. On the farm there were 2 large great Danes amongst other pets whose bark were loud as thunder and looked mean enough to send chills down your spine. However, to our surprise Tiger did not seem to be threatened and all he wanted was to sniff - sniff. He was moved to his safety pen to rest and cool down for a few hours before work commenced.    

Mr. Ritter assigned one of his skilled guides, Stephanus, to help us find the best routes to the trees. We hit the ground running that afternoon and covered 50% of the target play trees. A GPS device helped to check that we actually measured the exact same tree that was used in the original study. Fortunately Matti, CCF’s senior ecology researcher, recognized all the trees and could ensure that we were looking at the right one. Once we arrived at a play tree, Len, our dog trainer, would first take Tiger to explore around the tree to look for any signs of cheetah scat. Unfortunately, since the area had heavy rains the day before we arrived on the farm, we did not find any cheetah scat or tracks this time around.  

Len with Tiger searching for cheetah scat
One of the problems with using only a single scat dog, is that they cannot work continuously in the heat and humidity. Nonetheless, we were able to visit, measure and photograph 10 different play trees that were up to 30km apart in a two day period. Mr. Ritter also told us that it seemed to him as if the number of leopards on his farm has increased, while the number of cheetahs has decreased. CCF intends to expand this project to other areas of the country in the near future.

A typical cheetah play tree

Monday, 4 March 2013

"W" is for Warthog

Given their remarkable popularity with nearly all of our visitors, W could really only be for… Warthog!

There are two species of Warthog in Africa, and both are listed by the IUCN as being of "Least Concern."  The Desert Warthog is found in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, while the Common Warthog (the ones at CCF) are much more widespread, present in nearly 40 countries (including the three that are home to Desert Warthogs), from Senegal in the East, Eritrea in the NE, down to the northern regions of South Africa.

Although sometimes hunted for meat, or as a trophy, warthog populations are in no way threatened by man.  They are however very water-dependent and as a result are subject to local extinctions in drought conditions. 

Family groupings of warthogs can be very large, with one generation of offspring often involved in raising the next generation.  Here at CCF it is common to see 6-7 piglets following a single mum, with 2-3 sub-adults close by.  A camera trap at one of our busier waterholes typically takes over 1200 pictures every day featuring nothing but warthogs, and we can often count over 30 individuals in a single shot!

In addition to needing water to drink, warthogs are also commonly found wallowing in the mud at the edge of waterholes to cool down.  They are rarely preyed upon by smaller carnivores, such as cheetahs, since their tusks make a formidable weapon, and mothers protect their young extremely well. Leopards will sometimes make off with a piglet, but warthogs are really only seriously preyed upon by lions or spotted hyena. 

Friday, 1 March 2013


Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) is one of the steering committee members of the Greater Waterberg Complex (GWC) and was selected at the end of 2012 by the Namibia Protected Landscape Conservation Areas Initiative (NAMPLACE) steering committee to implement a needs assessment survey for several conservancies and commercial farms within the Greater Waterberg Complex.  The GWC and NamPlace is being implemented by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) through a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) project.

The goal of NAMPLACE is to implement projects with neighbouring communities to National Parks that will benefit the community and  the environment and assist in the sustainable progression of the region. The purpose of the needs assessment survey within the GWC was to collect baseline information that will be used to make informed decisions about how to efficiently utilise the NAMPLACE funds. The survey will serve as a tool to evaluate community needs and determine what development initiatives are most imperative. The survey will also function as a benchmark to measure developmental progress within the GWC.

Under the leadership of Dr. Laurie Marker and CCF Chief Ecologist, Matti Nghikembua, a team of eight people spent 10 days in the conservancies interviewing nearly 300 community members within the four communal conservancies.  The interviewers, all members of the various conservancies, spent three days in each conservancy.  The conservancy members were very happy to share the needs of their communities.
One of the communities surveyed by Matti and his team

After completing the surveying, CCF staff and interns spent the next three weeks entering the data and analyzing the results, and subsequently created a needs assessment report summarizing their findings. The primary needs of the conservancies as related to the survey teams, were more education particularly with respect to livestock and wildlife management, electricity and accessibility to healthcare, including the needs for better transport and better roads.  The Namplace funding will be used for laying solid foundations for this subsistence community so that an integrated system of wildlife will be intertwined with their livestock so that livelihoods can be diversified and include wildlife viewing and tourism ventures that complement their rich cultural heritage.  Due to CCF’s efforts, a solid plan is coming together and will help the communities within the conservancies over the next four years.
Left, Adam Pearlman is a Peace Corps volunteer working on developing business plans is based at CCF , Matti Nghikembua (middle), CCF Master’s Degree Intern , Sanju conducted surveys and helped analysis the data and write up the report.