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Monday, 30 September 2013

Volunteer Story - David Wilkie

And so I'm back. Alabama seems a foreign land to me. Much too green. Everywhere I look is green. I can't see the distant Waterberg Plateau. I can't see past the houses, the trees, the power lines.

I see my cats, the dogs and a few birds, but where are the Kudu? The Warthogs? The Baboons? The Cheetahs for goodness sake?

I woke in the middle of the night and asked Margaret- peacefully sleeping at my side- "Are we on the truck?" I thought somehow I'd fallen asleep while on a game count. I can attribute that to not having slept for forty hours, but there is this feeling inside that I believed I was still in Namibia doing one of my favorite activities.
I'm not at all sure this, now, is my life- that Huntsville is my home- or that I even belong here.

In Namibia, I found I need very little to be truly happy- my beautiful wife/ friend/ companion of thirty-plus years, friends to laugh and work with, air to breathe, a good hot shower, a starry night sky, a place to lay my head at night.

This first Huntsville day I find I have too many things. I am crowded. One good thing I can say about these many possessions: I can sell them to return to Africa. Most of them are not going to bring much in the way of wealth, but added together they will return me to that Southern land.

My heart has been broken. I left the animals, the dust and good companions behind in that now remote place. I find great consolation in my animals, but I also find a certain emptiness in the normal life now restored. Can my real life consist of going to work, coming home, eating dinner, sleeping, and repeating that cycle four more times until the weekend? Can my weekends be filled with the mundane of sleeping late, watching TV, fiddling with inconsequential self-assigned tasks I once considered worthwhile, and waiting for my next paycheck? That no longer seems like life to me.

Life. Waking to the sound of some unrelaxed dog barking. Hearing some unknown bird crying at the break of dawn, heat creeping into your small, round shelter. Putting on some previously worn clothes in semi-darkness knowing your day will consist of raking out goat pens (kraal) or cheetah feeding pens. Helping those working along side of you. Seemingly endless walks to and from the Centre. Greeting known and unknown faces. Feeling the heat rising as the sun climbs higher. Being greeted by an Anatolian Shepherd as if you were their best friend. Herding a goat out of a pen.. Red gloving your hands as you prepare the food for the waiting, hungry acinonyx jubatus. Rubbing predator powder onto the meal to promote good health among the world's fastest land mammal. Watching as the new shepherd puppies gain weight, sight, hearing, and learn about food other than their mother's milk. Seeing the proud goat mother with her two newborn kids.

My visage has acquired a certain redness. Dried, raw skin patches my arms and lower back, but I feel they are honor badges of hard and welcome work. My lips are chapped and cracked, but they are a sign of the wide smiles and laughter that crossed them. My fingernails are broken and chipped- more evidence. My foot aches when I sit too long, but I now feel it's signaling to get up- not a sign to keep resting. My clothes smell of an ancient dust. Even the nightmare of air travel ended, leaving me the desire to endure it again to return to a life I never knew possible.

I am a man reborn and salvaged from mundane existence back into living. I am alive.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Intern Story - Justine Solesbee

My name is Justine Solesbee. I am a zoology student at Oregon State University.  Visiting the Cheetah Conservation Fund has been a dream of mine for several years. After learning about Dr. Marker’s miracle work, I decided that CCF was something I wanted to be a part of.  When I was accepted as an intern I was thrilled. Not only was I traveling to Africa for the first time, I was working to save the cheetah.

As an intern I was given many tasks. Whether I was working in the kraal or speeding down a dirt road while cheetahs run behind, every job was important. I had many firsts here in Namibia, many of which I will cherish forever.   I was often attacked and nibbled by baby goats, spit on by feisty cheetah cubs, learned the real definition of “office work,” identified giraffes by their very similar neck patterns, counted game for 12 straight hours, and best of all, I spent countless hours with the cheetahs.

My time here has been beyond words. Everything we do at CCF makes a difference. The hours in the office and my time in the field were of equal value. I will always appreciate the hardworking staff, and I will never forget the beautiful land and wildlife. The things I learned during my 5 weeks here will last a lifetime. I will forever thank CCF for helping me find my passion in life and for making an impact on this community.  I can’t say goodbye to CCF but I can say, “see you later!” 

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Intern Story - Julien Lehoux

Hi, my name is Julien Lehoux. I am a French vet student in my fourth year at The Veterinary School of Nantes (ONIRIS). I decided to do a 6-week internship at CCF to have a first hand experience in wildlife conservation and veterinary medicine.

My project here was to put in place a meat inspection protocol for the CCF abattoir to try and minimize the likelihood of any CCF resident cheetahs contracting a food borne disease. Working with CCF’s Namibian workers was, for me, a great experience as it improved my professional repertoire when interacting with people rather than with animals. I also got to spend time in CCF’s Vet Clinic being involved in many things: cheetah health checks, x-rays on Stitch’s elbow (a young cheetah at CCF who has bone problems), and dental work on Shadow (CCF’s oldest cheetah). I had the opportunity to take care of CCF’s other animals; dogs, goats and horses and I learned a lot about conservation not only of the cheetah but of many other species as well.

I met a lot of wonderful people here from all over the world (South Africa, Europe, Japan, China, America), which is another reason why CCF is such an amazing place. I hope I will come back in Namibia and CCF one day to spend more time in this beautiful country and with the cheetahs!

Friday, 20 September 2013

How can honeybees help save cheetahs?

Native African honeybees
Cheetah Conservation Fund realises that if we want to save cheetahs, we have to care about the whole planet. That’s why we are inspired to operate our Centre as sustainably as possible. The World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainability as “to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Here at CCF, we understand that this means carefully managing natural resources with a deep respect for the natural world.
Staff gardener Petrus Johannes, volunteer Jenna Brager, and Chief Ecologist Matti Nghikembua install the first beehive in CCF's new apiary
Directorate of Forestry officers bring training and supplies to CCF
The Directorate of Forestry here in Namibia has a programme to help farmers set up beehives. We collaborated with local Forestry officers to begin CCF’s apiary. Forestry officers visited CCF to give beginning bee-keeping training, helped us acquire equipment, and brought us a live feral colony of bees! A nearby farmer had an unwanted wild hive living in a tyre in his garage. Forestry officers delivered the bees in the tyre to CCF at night. Because these bees were too established to be moved out of their tire home without causing immense damage, we’ve retrofitted the tyre for better bee health and they will remain an unmanaged feral hive. CCF plans to catch swarms of bees from this feral colony during the flower blooming season to establish additional colonies and grow the apiary.
CCF's first honeybees arrive as a feral colony in a tyre
Paul Visser (above right), CCF's farms manager, built in a nice bottom board, entrance, inner cover, and outer cover to improve the tire as a home
Speaking of swarms, one landed on this low branch at CCF just a few days after we installed the apiary. “If you build it, they will come...”

Bee swarm at CCF
Aspiring bee-keepers about to do their first swarm capture
Capturing the swarm
Preparing to install the swarm at the apiary
Unfortunately, this docile swarm flew away as soon as we installed them into the new hive boxes. But we knew that more swarms would be on their way. We took a field trip to the neighbouring town of Otavi to meet fellow bee-keeper Nicolene and her family. We did several hive inspections for CCF’s aspiring bee-keepers to learn more about what to look for in a healthy beehive. In the process, we learned that Namibian swarms of bees have a habit of leaving their hive boxes. Nicolene taught us a great trick for getting them to stay. We’ll try this next time.
Bee-keeping field trip to visit Nicolene's apiary in Otavi - she has 10 hives in her yard
Amazingly, shortly after this first swarm departed another swarm arrived and we didn’t even have to capture them. They chose to fly into the empty hive boxes we have set up in the apiary and make a new home. These bees are doing a great job of getting established and seem happy to stay. 

Bee-keeping protective gear and tools
Three full hive set-ups
The photos above show the gear and tools bought by funds from generous donors – protective suits, veils, gloves, boots, bee brushes, hive tools, and a smoker. With matching funds from the Namibian Directorate of Forestry, we were able to double this amount of protective gear and now have total of four full suits. Also shown above, generous donations have allowed us to acquire enough equipment to set up three large colonies of bees, including boxes with frames, bottom boards, inner covers, and outer covers.

We’ve heard a lot about African honeybees being very aggressive so everyone was a bit concerned. What will be the personality of our bees? Lucky for us, these bees have been extremely friendly. Another concern is honeybee predators – mainly honey badgers and baboons, both of which can be aggressive at times. This is why we chose an area that is completely fenced in from floor to ceiling and put the hive on a bench several feet off the ground.

CCF intends to build up the apiary to teach more aspects of sustainability to visitors and local farmers, and to produce honey for food and added income.

Honeybee pollinating a sunflower in CCF''s garden
As we expand on the Centre’s sustainability, it important to remember that everything is connected. In addition to growing our apiary, we are expanding our organic vegetable garden, cultivating fruit trees, diligently recycling, and looking into rainwater harvesting and grey water reuse. These small acts have big impacts on the cheetah – local food production and diversified income streams help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect the climate, save water for the wildlife, and restore cheetah habitat. We hope you’ll join us in reducing our ecological footprints.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Stress and AA amyloidosis in captive cheetahs - PhD research

For me, coming to CCF was not only about fulfilling a long time dream of working with cheetahs but about conducting research as well. I am a PhD candidate at the University of Maryland College Park (USA) and I work with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute to investigate how stress is related to disease in captive cheetah populations. AA amyloidosis is a disease that is highly prevalent among the captive cheetah population in North America, but appears to be virtually nonexistent in wild cheetahs and I believe that this is due to the stress that being held in captivity imposes; this is the focus of my dissertation research. CCF and the Smithsonian have had a long and strong history of collaboration, so I took this opportunity to compare the captive cheetahs in the US to captive and wild cheetahs in Namibia. In order to measure stress in a cheetah, the hormone cortisol is commonly used. Hormones can most easily be measured in the blood, but collecting blood samples from a cheetah is both invasive and stressful, so instead, I use fecal samples. The amount of cortisol in feces varies from day-to-day, so I collect many samples over a long period of time to calculate an average, or baseline, for each individual. Once we have this information we can begin to investigate if stress may be directly related to AA amyloidosis.

A large amount of my time at CCF has been working directly with the husbandry team to prepare meat, feed cheetahs, and collect fecal samples daily for my study. Cheetahs at CCF are housed in groups, which makes the process a bit more complicated, because when we find a fecal sample in an enclosure we do not know which cheetah it belongs to. So what is the solution? I add different non-digestible markers, such as uncooked lentils, corn, or rice to each individual’s food. These markers will pass through the cheetah’s digestive tract and into their feces. This way, when I collect a fecal sample, I can look to see which marker is inside and instantly know which cheetah the fecal sample came from. Using this method, I have been able to collect samples from 34 of the resident cheetahs at CCF whom will be included in my study.

In addition to this work, I have also spent a lot of time working in the Genetic Conservation Laboratory here at CCF because I am also interested to know if there are genetic differences between cheetahs that predispose them to getting AA amyloidosis, particularly when stressed.

I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to spend the last two months here at CCF and feel incredibly sad that my time here has just about come to an end. I’ve been so fortunate to get to know most of CCF’s resident cheetahs and CCF’s staff has been fantastic, unwavering in their efforts to help me with my research exceeding my original expectations. I look forward to the day I will return to CCF again, because it is not a question of if, it is a question of when.

Ashley Franklin, PhD Student Research Intern