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Thursday, 20 June 2013

Keeping an Eye on Amani

About seven months ago, one of CCF’s resident non-releasable cheetahs, Amani, developed a corneal lesion on her right eye: a cloudy area with a white speck barely visible. Initially the condition did not seem to irritate her, and we really could not train a wild cheetah to take eye drops!  However, by late January 2013 the eye dramatically worsened, and the lesion progressed into a corneal ulcer. The eye began to tear excessively, and her nictitating membrane (a translucent third eyelid cheetahs have for moisture and protection) was raised, causing her to squint constantly --an indication of eye pain.

Amani thus began a series of anaesthesias. The first was to perform surgery -- suturing the nictitating membrane to the inside of the upper eyelid, thus forming a protective layer of tissue over the damaged cornea.  The surgery, performed by CCF’s veterinarian, Amelia Zakiewicz, went without complications.
Amani was anaesthesised three more times over the next couple months to assess her progress, with the sutures redone each time to allow healing to continue. By the end of February, it was clear that the surgery had not worked. The ulcer was healing too slowly.  We did a new procedure, called a conjunctival flap surgery. This two-hour long surgery involved suturing the membrane lining inside of eyelids directly to the cornea. Another eyelid flap was performed to further protect the ulcer and sutures.

On 8 April Amani was again anaesthetised to assess the conjunctival flap surgery.  The ulcer had improved, but a prolapse had occurred -- the iris had migrated into the ulcer to plug the defect. We were not pleased with this prognosis but monitor how the condition and see how it developed. However, the situation continued to deteriorate and therefore, on 22 April, after further assessment, we decided to remove her right eye, thus reducing her discomfort.

After almost three months, Amani has adapted to seeing with one eye and is capable of focusing on fences, feeding bowls and even meat treats thrown in her general direction.  She is one of the best runners in her camp and is still chasing CCF’s feeding vehicle.  She does not miss a thing!  Amani is completely off all pain-related medications and now receives only a daily Omega-3 capsule. She recovered flawlessly from the surgery; however her eye has taken on the expected sunken appearance.  We all wish Amani well, and hope that the coming months will be less problematic for her.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Cheetahs and Climate Change

Our newest infographic is about cheetahs and climate change.  Many thanks to the folks at Viget Labs for helping us design this!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

A Garden for Cheetahs

In early February, the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) began building a diverse organic vegetable garden at its International Research and Education Centre outside of Otjiwarongo, Namibia. The main garden site is about 13 by 22 meters and features long straight beds in the style of farm scale vegetable production, as well as keyhole beds demonstrating home scale gardening with meandering pathways.

The garden as a blank slate.

 As part of a greater effort to engage in environmentally aware operations and wise resource use, CCF decided to produce fresh vegetables to feed people consuming food onsite daily. This includes more than 40 staff and volunteers, visitors to the Cheetah CafĂ©, and guests of Babson House luxury accommodation. A study from 2005 showed Namibia is importing 80% of its fruits and vegetables, mostly from South Africa. Importing so much produce entails transporting it across long distances, increasing use of fossil fuels and carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. Localizing food production will not only help CCF reduce the environmental and social impacts of transporting food; it will also provide fresher, tastier, more nutritious meals and save money.

CCF Volunteer Jenna Brager and Staff gardener Petrus Johannes shaping beds after manure application.

Rising to the challenge of heavy clay-sand soil, we used every bit of aged manure from CCF’s farm and then made use of a by-product from our Bushblok production – wood dust. All these materials are mixed into parent soil to improve fertility and organic matter content. As beds are prepared for upcoming plantings, we are just beginning to integrate the first batches of finished compost we are currently producing from food scraps, which is an essential ingredient for any organic garden.

A bit of CCF’s seed library. All seeds were donated by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in the United States.

Since we began in February, our plantings include beans, beetroot, carrots, daikon radishes, peas, squash, lettuces, turnips, parsnips, rutabagas, cilantro, chard, endive, mustard, rocket, spinach, radishes, okra, and sunflowers and other flowers to attract pollinators. We are in the midst of transplanting onions, leeks, artichokes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kohlrabi.

In less than four months since the garden’s inception, we are harvesting twice per week a diverse salad mix --radishes, peas, turnips, chard, mustard, a braising greens mix, cilantro, and flowers. By having this much diversity in a small space, we are able to use organic methods and keep the garden chemical-free. Biodiversity in a garden habitat invites beneficial insects to do the work of managing unwanted insects. The vegetables are therefore healthier for the environment, the growers, and the consumers. CCF thanks Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, an American company based in Missouri and distributing from California, for donating more than 60 varieties of heirloom vegetable seeds. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is preserving agricultural and culinary heritage by carrying the largest selection of seeds from the 19th century.

CCF kids and Staff gardener Petrus Johannes start seeds for the garden.

Newly sprouted seeds – broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi.

On 3 April, CCF held a dedication event, naming this site the ‘Chewbaaka Memorial Garden’ in honour of CCF’s ambassador cheetah who passed away. With plans for water conservation practices and beekeeping in the works, CCF hopes to include the Chewbaaka Memorial Garden in farmer training programs in the future. During your next visit to CCF, ask to see what’s growing!

CCF’s Executive Director Dr. Laurie Marker, with some of her team, speaking at the dedication of “Chewbaaka Memorial Garden”

CCF Staff gardener Petrus Johannes with an abundant harvest.