Cheetah Release and Jeff Corwin Visit

On Sunday, we trapped two wild male cheetahs who have been hanging around the CCF facilities, to put a GPS satellite collar on one and do a medical workup on both. I came to know these cheetahs at the beginning of 2008. I always used to see tracks, and then one day we saw these two males near the offices. We’re not used to seeing wild cheetahs so close, so at first we thought they were two of our cheetahs that had escaped! They started scent-marking the walls of the office building as a territorial behavior. Because they were living so close to so many people, we had to be able to track them.

We set out cage traps on Thursday but left them open so the cats could pass through and get used to them. On Saturday night we activated the traps. The traps were so close to us that I actually heard the gates shut when the cats entered the traps in the middle of the night. Very early the next morning, I checked from a distance and could see that the gates were shut. We moved the cats into crates at about 9 a.m. and took them to the clinic for a biomedical and physical exam and to fit one with a GPS satellite collar. Part of the workup involves weighing. These were the heaviest cheetahs I have ever seen. One weighed 61 kilograms (134 lbs.) and the other was 51 kilos (112 lbs.)!

To monitor them as they woke up from the sedation, we kept them at the clinic until the next morning, Monday. That morning, we drove them out to their usual hunting grounds to release them. Jeff Corwin, who hosts shows on Animal Planet and the Food Network, and a film crew were on hand to film the cheetahs’ release. The release went exactly as it should—the cats dashed out of the crate and into the open savannah. When we next tracked them, they had traveled about 10 km away. We were worried that they were leaving us, but they were spotted this morning in CCF’s “big field” and seem to be heading back to CCF’s headquarters again.

In the photo (courtesy of Drew Gagne), Jeff Corwin and I are on top of the crates as one of the cheetahs darts out.

By the way, the Jeff Corwin show that features CCF is called “100 Heartbeats” and will air on MSNBC on Nov. 22.

–Matti Nghikembua

Rhinos, cheetahs and a BBC film crew at CCF!

HI – quick update on the last few days. We received two young female rhinos on Wednesday. They arrived just at dark and we drove them to the release site. These two females are 3 and 4 years of age. This release was a bit different than the males a couple days before. The one female took off like a bolt of lightning after being reversed from the sedative that kept her calm during her 3 hour trip from capture to CCF. In addition, the removal of the blindfold over her eyes and the ear plugs all made her senses come alive! So, she ran out of her crate fast into the dark and we could hear her for a couple minutes after release still running. The other female came out of her crate like a calm horse – she stepped out of the crate, walked a few feet, put up her head and sniffed, then walked slowly over to the nearest tree and just stopped. Over a half hour later, she had moved around and far enough from us that we could get the truck to our release area to pick up the crates again and drive away. Watching her, even in the dark, was such a peaceful experience. So, this week, these rhinos have given me one of my biggest thrills (the big males release) and one of the most tranquil moments – Rhinos are such a special animal. Over the last couple days, the big male (photo attached) has shown himself a couple times as our staff has been radio tracking them – he is magnificent! These are the last of the six rhinos that will be coming to CCF. We do, however, need to come up with ~$5,000 to support their transport to CCF. CCF is one of one a few sites selected by the Ministry of Environment for rhino relocation, and we are hoping that they can assist us in habitat restoration on our thickly bush encroached rhino sanctuary land.

On the cheetah front, we had to do minor surgery on one of the new cubs. Shoulder as we have been calling him, needed to have the gash on his shoulder re-stitched. We now hope that these stitches stay in better and that his shoulder heals. He and his siblings have accepted our care and are doing well, they are generally playful in our outside cub nursery area.

Chewbaaka is doing OK – from his enclosure he can see cubs and keeps a close watch on them.

We also have a BBC Film crew here for the next few days – they are filming our cheetahs running for a documentary called the Perfect Predator which will air in early 2010. We also have a group of 20 teachers from different areas of the US conducting their on-going education from Miami University in Ohio, USA. They are working on learning centered approaches in education. CCF and Miami University and Cincinnati Zoo have worked together for the past five years.

Laurie

Good news from NamibRand: Shanti is alive and well!

Good news to everyone, SHANTI is alive and in good health!  Ann’s theory of the boys going to Toskaan occasionally because they have picked up Shanti finally comes true. After some report from Sossousvlei Desert Lodge that they have seen six cheetahs instead of five at Toskaan, Florian saw Shanti today morning when he was driving from Aandstêr on the road to Keerweder (some few metres north of the pen. First he thought it was one of the boys but after searching and saw the five boys on the other side of the road, it surprised him when he looked through the binocular and realised it was Shanti with his collar on. He tried scanning her but he did not pick up her signals which means the collar is not working. According to Florian he clearly identified her and he is sure it was Shanti. It was impossible for her to take any photo as Shanti runs away in the long grass toward the koppie northwest of Keerweder. I think she has come up with the boys last night from Toskaan. Everyone at Keerweder was so excited to hear that she is probably alive.  Once again, the boys are back to Keerweder area from Toskaan where we left them yesterday and they marked the poles and a quiver tree near the guest house last night as usual. It seems like the Jeye’s fluid (with strong smell) that we used last time to clean all the marking in the area (wall, stoep, trees and poles) did not work at all. They were lying next to one another in the river bed near the pen as it was windy and cold today. 

Let’s thank the boys they have found Shanti for us. Now we know why they keep visiting Toskaan area.

I will be in touch soon…. 

With regards – Selma

NamibRand Nature Reserve

Cheetah Re-introduction Programme

Quick update from Dr. Marker

We had some sad news recently. One of the female cheetahs that had a satellite collar on for the past year was found dead in a fence– very strange — she was caught around her waist – and she has four cubs, so we picked her up a few days ago and went down today to set a trap to try to catch the cubs, estimated at around 4 months’ old. The four cubs were caught  – three yesterday and one this morning. We worked on them all today ~ 3 months of age – 1 female 3 males – we will name the female Polly and one of the males Tony.

One of the males had a huge gash in his shoulder and we had to stitch him up – they have all now eaten and are settling in – we have a lot of work now to get them settled.

A couple of weeks ago we spent hours in Otji with operation on Leia – more infection with her teeth (not healed from last month) – she was in pretty critical care in the clinic but now is eating on her own and doing much better. However, Leia is in end-stage renal failure and it will only be a matter of time (and probably not that long – she is 13 years old).

Chewbaaka as a babyOur EarthWAtch group leaves tomorrow – and much to do as our gala in next Saturday.

Finally, we are trying to raise US$50,000 by the end of August to celebrate Chewbaaka’s 14th birthday. Every donation received by the 31st August will be matched dollar for dollar. Please visit our web site to donate at www.cheetah.org.

Laurie

PS – Thank you so much for all your support. In addition to a very kind monthly donor, we have received a couple of additional donations lately that truly are appreciated.

Intern researches predator population at CCF

Hi, I’m Matt Solberg an intern here at the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in Namibia. Growing up, I’ve always been passionate about wildlife conservation. Born in Eugene, Oregon, I spent a lot of time enjoying the outdoors. The woods became my backyard as I explored every hillside and mountain top. I dreamed of exploring distant continents and studying wildlife abroad. During my freshman year at Oregon State University I looked into travelling abroad. After attending a presentation on the CCF, I was hooked. I looked into IE3 (a global internships program at Oregon State University) and discovered several international internships abroad. IE3 matches students with host organizations who strongly support experiential education to develop internships that relate to the student’s career interests. I was amazed by previous student’s experiences with IE3. Working directly with my college, IE3 offered a chance to learn abroad while providing me with credits in my major. As a Zoology major interested in conservation and human-predator conflict, I knew CCF would offer an amazing opportunity that fit my interests.

 

Currently I’m using camera traps to survey predator populations on CCF’s eight farms. I was inspired to work with trap cameras after meeting Dennis Wilson, a biology professor in Phoenix, Arizona. Dennis had been visiting CCF to teach an international course and collect data for his courses back home. Intrigued by his research, I talked with Dr. Laurie Marker about my interests and the possibility of working with trap cameras. Days later, Dr. Marker introduced me to a three month project working with trap cameras alongside Matti Nghikembua (CCF’s Senior Research Ecologist) and Ryan Richards (the Intern Coordinator at CCF).

 

The camera trap study focuses on predator behaviour around sites known as play trees.  Play trees are large sloped trees commonly visited by cheetahs and leopards. Predators often mark territory, leave scat, scratch claws, and survey the savannah at play trees. With 36 trap cameras and 18 stations, we set up 2 cameras at each site. These cameras allow us to record what animals live in the area, how numerous they are, how they are living amongst farmers, and what condition they are in. The cameras are set eight meters apart on posts 75cm high (predator height). This allows us to see passing wildlife and identify distinguishing marks on the animal. Using these unique marks we can determine how often the particular organism visits the site. The trap cameras provide a non-invasive approach to data collection. The information collected helps CCF understand how local wildlife coexist with agricultural communities.

 

NamibRand – June 19-20, 2009

It’s good to be back in the Reserve and getting back to work. A few grey hairs later, and I think I may have finally got a fix on Shanti. The signal is weak but it is the first audible signal I’ve got since being back. I think she’s still in the Moringa Valley area and seems to be fairly settled there as even when I was up at CCF, that’s where the others found her each day. I’m extremely pleased she hasn’t yet ventured over the hills too far, and I’m going to continue to track her from a distance as not to push her at all. If the opportunity to get a sighting presents itself, I’ll take it but only with caution. She’s still too unstable to harass at the moment I think, and hope you all agree. Let’s see what I can come up with tomorrow… (the map is of Shanti’s whereabouts)

The males on the other hand, are still doing extremely well and since their last kill (Monday evening, presumably another young Zebra), have eaten again. This time I’m certain they’ve gone back to bigger game as the poor guys were so full last night they could barely move. Even today they hardly did a thing, opting to spend the day resting as opposed to doing anything that requires movement. This evening however, they did manage to drag themselves around to the other side of the fence to say hi to Misty and Rosy.

That’s it for now, but when I get more you’ll be the first to know. Thanks, -James

NamibRand update: June 13

It seems like we may a have a slight problem with Shanti. Her position now is a critical one. I strongly believe that she is somewhere up in the mountains on the border of the Reserve. If so, she has two paths: one back into the Reserve of tough, high hills or, an easier one down through the valley on to farmland. And I think it’s the farm where our boys weren’t too welcome.

The boys seem well though, and I think they’ve managed to catch some smaller game again, possibly a young Springbok. I looked for a kill site but couldn’t find anything. It’s interesting to see that when they don’t kill something large, it looks like there is a hierarchical order as to who gets the most food. It’s just speculation but every time they come back full, but not too full, it’s easy to see that Lindt, Cadbury and Kia have usually eaten a lot, while Mushara looks a little bit less full and Ra appears to have had the least. He’s still eaten, but not nearly as much. I don’t think their digestion would be all that different, so who knows? It’s something I’d like to look at more in depth for sure.

Also, after coming back from tracking Shanti, I was rewarded with a sighting of a female leopard and her cub near a place called “Cheetah Rocks”. Thanks to Jeff from SDL for the tip-off! She looked very healthy and most definitely the one whose tracks we spotted the other day around here. I guess the really do come down out of the hills this time of the year. They disappeared too quickly for pictures unfortunately but maybe I’ll come across them again.

I’ll be in touch as soon as I learn more about Shanti but she’s in a very undesirable place at the moment. We’ll just have to see what we can do.

Thanks,

James.

NamibRand: What to do about Shanti? 12 June update.

I’m going to skip most of the story today and cut right down to brass taxes. I’m a little worried about how much pressure to put on Shanti. Going out to try and get a better look at her yesterday, she disappeared again. We had been tracking her across the plains in the South-Eastern corner of Moringa Valley, and so as not to spook her, we stuck to the river beds and as much cover as possible. Still, when we must have been at least 1.5 – 1km away, the signal strengthened, weakened and then vanished as she ran over the hill. I’m just worried that by constantly chasing her, we’re putting too much strain and stress on her, and with that pressure she should be spending her time hunting as opposed to evading us.

I think I’ll just have to let her be for awhile again, only getting signal information from her. That said, I still don’t have any idea about her present condition which is the problem. Any comments or suggests would be most welcome.

As far as our boys are concerned, life seems to be back to a normal “routine”. They were unsuccessful in the Keerweder Pan last night it seems and have since wandered into the veld just West of Boscia watering hole where they spent much of the day resting. It looks like they weren’t in a rush to get back to the pens for a change so hopefully they stay out over night and catch something then.

Interestingly, I’ve noticed a huge increase on Leopard activity in the area. There’s the one still hanging around its kill site with the Oryx, we found tracks of a smaller, presumably female in the riverbeds of Moringa Valley as we tracked Shanti and there were more tracks of another large male walking up towards the Boscia watering hole as we searched for the boys. Apparently, this is the time of the year that they come down out of the mountains. I just hope our boys and girls have enough sense to remain wary.That’s it for now but I’ll be in touch again soon. Thanks, -James.

PS – On the map for Shanti: Red: where she was roughly, Green: where she ran to roughly. –J.

The Boys attempt to hunt a zebra at NamibRand! 6/11/09

It’s been a short day, as a lack of vehicles inhibited me from getting out again this afternoon. No matter though, as I got lots of info this morning for us. To start with, I went out to look for Shanti this morning after seeing no signs of our new friend, the resident Leopard. I tracked her from the same place I did yesterday and her signal was even stronger than normal, so, I went after her thinking she might be down on the plains or at least travelling in a river bed closer by. Either the signal was bouncing across mountains or she saw us and ran, the latter being the more probable. We walked and walked up and down hills until Paul and I were in the middle of the mountains dividing the Draaihoek and Moringa Valley areas. Here, the signal completely disappeared and even though we searched high and low for it, couldn’t pick it up again. By this time, we were pretty exhausted and on top of my coffee deficiency by this point, poor Paul was suffering with a mooi babelaas after his 21st birthday yesterday… We turned back to make another plan.

On the way back, I wanted to check on the wounded Oryx and seen if she was still around. As we slowly approached, the young calf ran from one bush to hide behind another, obviously shaken by our approach. This was unusual, because before it hasn’t been that bothered by us at all. Then we saw the tracks and the drag marks. The Leopard must have got her sometime last night and even though she was massive (she hadn’t been walking for awhile yet was still feeding regularly…) the Leopard had managed to drag her over 100m and was guarding his prize under a large bush. This is Nature’s way and although it’s easy to feel sorry for the calf, this is how things work. We left the obviously irritated Leopard in peace, and I’m just glad he did manage to eat as we had just walked past him (at a distance of course) to try and find Shanti…

I noticed on the map that Shanti may have used an old path to head into Moringa Valley and decided to drive around and see if I could catch up with her on the other side. Before I went, I took a quick look to see how the 5 males were doing and it looked as if they had wandered off into the Keerweder pan, probably on a hunting trip. Sure enough, they were across the main road and in the process stalking a pair of Zebra, much to the pleasure of a German man and his son who had been passing through at the right time. They were very respectful of the Cheetahs, remaining quiet and not getting out of their car to take picture so, I filled them in on the details of the project and we watched in amusement as they walked up to the two fully-grown Zebra. Suddenly, a young foal exploded from the grass in front of them, obviously the real attention of the boys. They took off after it, Kia in front with Lindt hot on his heels. All the Zebra had bolted but, turning on a dime, the two parents stopped to confront the Cheetahs. They may not always show signs of intelligence but I’m glad they did here and they decided to abandon the chase. They wandered out further into the pan, two very excited Germans continued their journey and I was off to Moringa Valley. The Zebras continued to eat the grass around them. Shanti has definitely come out on the other side of the pass and although I probably could have found her, she was still up in the hills a little ways and the last thing I wanted to do was chase her back over the Mountains again. As I was trying to decide if I would walk any further, I had my mind made up for me when I realised I need to turn back as the Land Cruiser was needed by Mike and Ann this afternoon. I left her in peace again but the area she is in now is perfect. Nice and open with a lot of game. Plus, this area hasn’t seen any known Cheetah activity yet so, it may prove to be an easier hunting ground for her. Time will tell. That’s all for today. I’m sorry there wasn’t more but I can’t hog the trucks all the time! Take it easy, James. PS The photo of Shanti was taken by Rob Thomson at the CCF grounds prior to her release at NamibRand.

Latest from NamibRand -

Mushara (photo by James) 

Mushara (photo by James)

Today was something else. I mean, even for our five, they did practically nothing (that I could see) all day! They were resting in the morning and then moved a couple of hundred metres around the corner and stayed there all afternoon. I think they may be resting up before going out hunting again tomorrow. Sometimes they seem lazier than normal the day before heading off, but they aren’t usually this bad. Maybe they had a bad night’s sleep with all the wind again yesterday, who knows? So I can’t report much besides Kia looked like he was scouting around for game (just looking, not moving of course…) and Mushara got up and stretched once. That’s about it really.

Shanti is a little more interesting though. She’s moved another good distance again and is hugging close to the mountains between the Draaihoek area and the Moringa valley, not too far from where I last caught a sighting of her. I followed her (with the signal, not visual) for most of the morning and saw that eventually she must have stopped in a crevice up the side of the hills, like she did last time.I wanted to wait for a bit to let her settle down before chasing her off so, I went a little further down the road to check on an injured/sick Oryx who can’t walk, as her back legs have given in. She was first discovered during the Game Count on Sunday and when we went out to try and euthanize her, we realised she still had a very young calf with her that must be still suckling. We decided it would be best not to do anything in the end and just let nature take its course. Finding her today, near her resting place, we discovered some tracks and then caught a glimpse of our new friend, the Draaihoek Leopard. I imagine he’ll probably finish the job for us but we lost sight of him quickly and even though Paul and I tried to locate him again, he was gone. This put us in a predicament for sure. Shanti was safe but, we couldn’t go out walking when he was out in the bushes somewhere close by. Very frustrating but, if he does feed this evening I doubt he’ll pose a threat to us tomorrow, as long as we don’t push our luck. Nice to see him again though, as long as he stays away from the cheetahs, of course.

I checked again and Shanti was still in the same spot this evening so we’ll just have to wait and see if we can get to her in the morning. As long as she doesn’t trek over the mountains, getting a good sighting shouldn’t be a problem. Wish us luck!Thanks, -James.