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Monday, 15 April 2013

"Y" is for Yellow-Billed Hornbill

Close to the end of the alphabet now, and we come to the Yellow-Billed Hornbill.


One of three hornbills in the area, the Southern Yellow-Billed Hornbill is probably the best known bird of all of our visitors. Nesting boxes have taken the place of hollowed out tree trunks, and have allowed two initial pairs to produce many offspring in recent years.

Although the total population does appear to be decreasing, they are still widespread enough and common enough to be classified as "Least Concern" on the IUCN red list and there are few direct threats to their existence.  Other hornbill species in Africa are less fortunate however, and suffer considerable losses via the demand for bushmeat, and a significant (live, and dead) export trade to countries such as the United States.

The actual total of southern yellow-billed hornbills isn't known.  They are found in nine countries in a broad band across Southern Africa, from Namibia in the west, to Mozambique in the east, and reaching to the southern fringes of Angola, Zambia and Malawi down to the northern portion of South Africa.

Typical hornbills (like the southern yellow-billed) have a unique system of nesting, where the female will wall herself up in the bowel of a tree (or a nesting box), by sealing the entrance up with mud and bits of plants, leaving only a narrow slit through which the male can feed her. Once her eggs have hatched, the female breaks out, and her oldest chick reseals the entrance behind her.  Once out of the nest the female doesn't tend to stray far, and continues to rely on the male to bring her food, some of which she passes on to the strongest of her chicks. Typically only the one or two strongest chicks will survive. Hornbills are omnivorous; eating both plants, small reptiles, and insects.

They are territorial and will drive off other hornbills in the area.  This also results in them attacking what they believe are other hornbills in the area, but are in fact their own reflections in vehicle side-mirrors! They have a loud 'tocking' call, and a surprisingly graceful gliding flight.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Rainbow and Aurora

A blog about the newest resident non-releasable cheetahs at CCF, Rainbow and Aurora, courtesy of our Cheetah Keeper, Jenny Bartlett.

On the 8th February 2013 CCF received a call from a farmer telling us they had a young cheetah cub that was extremely weak.  They had found her on the side of the road and she obviously had not eaten for a while as she was too weak to get up and run away. Luckily for the young cub, she was taken to the farm and given food and water before the farmer called CCF.

Naturally CCF rushed to the aid of the cub and arrived a few hours later. She was extremely thin so it did not take much to place her into a crate to transport her back to CCF. After thanking the farmer for calling and talking about how he can further help the wild cheetahs, the CCF staff were back on the road heading back to CCF where they could do a better check of the cub and give her more food.

Although weak, the young female was inquisitive and watched out the window as we drove.  About twenty minutes before reaching the CCF centre, three rainbows appeared overhead which looked beautiful and peaceful; it was decided she would be named Rainbow.

After arriving at the centre, Rainbow needed constant care and attention.  Naturally in the wild, cheetah cubs would not be on their own at such a young age of roughly 3-4 months; they would always be with their mother or at least siblings, so the CCF staff had to be with her constantly for the initial few days.

Each day she would be fed small portions, which could be up to 8 meals a day.  As she was starved it was crucial to not overfeed her, but at the same time ensure she got enough food, as well as vitamins and minerals she desperately needed. Over the first few weeks Rainbow quickly put on weight and her fur and skin condition improved.

Now that her general health was not in danger it was important that we now focused on her mental health as most young cubs coming in from such a traumatic start normally become very depressed.  The staff at CCF came up with a variety of play items that she could play with from balls to toys tied on the end of string.  This way CCF staff could move around and trigger her chase response.

Because cheetahs run at such top speeds while hunting, it is imperative that they learn how to chase and catch from a young age, which in the wild would be something they learned from watching their mother. It was not long before Rainbow started chasing the toys and seemingly enjoying it.   Playing did seem to tire her out quite quickly, but this was to be expected as she didn’t have as much energy as she should have for a cub at her age.

Sadly, there was one thing that CCF staff could not replace: contact between two cheetahs, which is why it was very mixed emotions when CCF received another call from a different farmer saying he had a young cheetah cub and asking would we come and get it.

This little female cub was caught by the farmer. He kept her for roughly two weeks before calling CCF. Dr Laurie Marker went to collect the cub, but sadly for the young cub, now named Aurora, she had been taken away from her mother and siblings and had to be brought back to CCF.

Aurora was a bit feistier than Rainbow when she arrived and was not in too bad of overall condition.  She was bloated from being fed too much and had her claws cut really short, but the main thing was that she seemed very frightened. After spending a night in our quarantine pen, Aurora was anesthetized and given a full health check to make sure she was healthy, remove any parasites, and give her relevant vaccinations without stressing her out. The next morning we decided it was time to introduce her to Rainbow, as the sooner the two cubs were together the better it would be for them.

The introduction could not have gone any better.  As soon as Rainbow heard Aurora chirp she went straight over to the fence line and chirped back.  At this time, Aurora almost came out of her crate, which she had not done since we received her two days earlier. Eventually both cats met up at the fence line dividing them and touched noses. We decided that we should open the gate and see how they did together, as the keeper moved towards the fence line, Aurora ran back to her crate, however this was not a problem for Rainbow as she strolled right in and sat down next to Aurora.  After a few minutes the staff witnessed Rainbow grooming Aurora and they have been together ever since

Every day they are getting more confident and seem happy together.  They groom each other after every meal and are always curled up beside one another.  We are very sad that the two of them have had such a bad start, but at least now they can develop with one another.