We're always looking for new ways to educate people about the plight of the cheetah in the wild. We've added a new way to reach out -- here's our first infographic, with the assistance of the team at Viget Labs in Virginia (thanks!). We're also posting it to our Facebook page -- share liberally!
Tuesday, 21 May 2013
Tuesday, 14 May 2013
The 2013 The Namibian Newspaper Cup was held in Otjiwarongo the “Cheetah Capital of the World” over Easter weekend this year. In light of being selected as the site of this year’s under-20 regional soccer championship, Otjiwarongo decided to highlight their reputation for being the home to the world’s fastest animal by inviting the Cheetah Conservation Fund to be a part of this national tournament.
CCF set up a tent at the main entrance to the stadium which provided information about cheetahs and the conservation efforts CCF employs to help ensure the survival of the cheetah. In addition to educational services, the tent served as an arts and crafts center for children, and also offered cheetah face painting. The tent was very popular and at any given time throughout the four-day festival there were several children making cheetah ears and waiting in line to have their faces painted.
CCF also provided decorations for the field and two cheetah mascots. Three cheetah statues were on display on the field, and the mascots ran onto the field with the teams and had their pictures taken with the teams and the player of the match. This year’s winner was the host region - Otjozondjupa. The event was attended by thousands of fans. We were graced with the presence of Namibia’s Prime Minister Dr Hage Geongob and other cabinet ministers who attended the final event. Despite the rainfall over the weekend, spectators cheered for their teams and players’ morale was as sharp as a hunting predator. We are very grateful to the organizers of the tournament for allowing us to participate. They worked so hard to make such a wonderful event, and we were proud to be part of it.
Share this post on: Facebook Twitter
Monday, 15 April 2013
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.
Share this post on: Facebook Twitter
Monday, 8 April 2013
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.
Share this post on: Facebook Twitter
Friday, 22 March 2013
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
Share this post on: Facebook Twitter
Monday, 4 March 2013
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.
Share this post on: Facebook Twitter
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.|
Share this post on: Facebook Twitter
Monday, 21 January 2013
CCF has carried out a number of camera trapping surveys, and also maintains a network of cameras positioned for ongoing monitoring of the wildlife on our land. While we are mainly focused on cheetahs, there are many other species out there, and the cameras will trigger no matter what passes them by. In this series of weekly blog entries, I will use these pictures to illustrate some of the wealth of animal life in Namibia - one species per week. I hope you will enjoy seeing a little more of our world here in the bush.
U is for… Unknown!
With every camera trap survey, there are always some pictures that we just cannot identify. In some cases it is because the animal is too far away, especially at night. In others, it is too close, so much so that we get an extreme (and unfocused) close-up of the hide. In still more cases the animal is moving too fast, or just catches the edge of the frame and all we see is a tiny part of a leg or tip of a tail.
Different camera traps react in different ways, and have radical differences in performance. Some have a very narrow field of view, others are very wide. Some react slowly, the more expensive ones react faster. A few see colour at night, while most use infra-red LEDs to illuminate the scene and therefore produce purely black and white images.
The basic theory however is simple. The vast majority of camera traps work in the same way as motion sensors in many burglar alarm systems, by tracking a warm body moving against a colder background. They are generally ineffective in the desert because the ambient temperature is often similar to body temperature, and also cannot detect reptiles such as crocodiles while in water.
To avoid running through batteries at a fast rate, cameras generally wait in standby mode with just the motion detector active. When that is triggered, the camera powers up and take a photo. In some cameras it can mean a delay of several seconds during which time a fast moving animal may have exited the frame. There is also a further delay while the first image is processed by the camera before it can take a second image. This can be more than 15 seconds, which means that if there is a coalition walking past, you'll only get the lead animal.
As I mentioned above, night time images are generally illuminated using IR LEDs, thus avoiding animals being spooked by the bright glare of a regular flash. LED flashes also recharge faster than conventional flashes, so multiple pictures can be taken as rapidly as the camera can process images. The downside, however, is a reduced distance over which animals can be illuminated. Many cameras can only light up an animal up to 10m (33 ft) away, with the best reaching out to double that.
Our initial deployment of cameras used the Bushnell Trophy Cam which is a good middle-of-the-range camera trap, and probably the best you can buy for $200USD each. Over time, however, we've seen quite a high failure rate of these cameras in the harsh conditions of the Namibian bush. All of our cameras are deployed continually for years at a time in bright sunlight, torrential rain, and temperatures ranging from a few degrees below 0C (32F) up to 40+C (104+F). Some are knocked by passing antelope, played with by tenacious baboons, chewed on by hyena, or infested by ant colonies. Protective metal security boxes help extend their lives, but even with those they are far from invulnerable since the most delicate parts, the lens, sensor, etc, have to remain exposed.
Taking the lead from the Smithsonian Institute, and several other large research bodies, we have been slowly switching over to cameras manufactured by Reconyx. They are built to much more exacting standards, and have proven much more reliable. In addition, they are significantly higher performance cameras with lightening fast trigger speeds, and almost as rapid processing and recovery times. In every performance category they outperform the competition. However, this comes at a price. The basic model is $450USD, with others in the range costing up to $650USD.
Far fewer unknown images are recorded by our small group of Reconyx cameras, and most of those occur at ranges where cheaper cameras would have picked up nothing at all. Ideally we'd like to switch over entirely, especially as the older cameras die, but I suspect the cost will force a compromise. Hopefully over time however we will slowly reap the rewards that faster, more reliable, and longer ranged cameras will bring.
Share this post on: Facebook Twitter
Monday, 14 January 2013
CCF has carried out a number of camera trapping surveys, and also maintains a network of cameras positioned for ongoing monitoring of the wildlife on our land. While we are mainly focused on cheetahs, there are many other species out there, and the cameras will trigger no matter what passes them by. In this series of blog entries, I will use these pictures to illustrate some of the wealth of animal life in Namibia – about one species per week. I hope you will enjoy seeing a little more of our world here in the bush.
T is for… Termite. Technically we only have photos of termite mounds, but I hope you'll like the entry all the same.
There are several hundred termite species in the area, none of which are listed on the IUCN redlist. At CCF we are lucky enough to have fungus-growing termites, from which we harvest a small number of the large mushrooms produced (typically 30cm diameter) to supplement our own table at mealtime.
These termites feed predominantly on vegetable matter, and can be highly damaging in areas where crops are grown. Here, however, they have ample food sources amongst natural vegetation, although they do sometimes consume wooden fence posts. Elsewhere in the world, termites have been known to burrow through all sorts of building materials including concrete, and annually cause billions of US dollars of damage.
The mounds created by termite colonies hereabouts generally range in size from 1-2m, although I know of one that is around 4m. What is seen on the surface is only about 25-30% of the total mound size, with the rest buried beneath the surface. Air temperature within and without is about the same as the surrounding temperature, although it is believed that the maze of tunnels may help with air purity within the colony. The queens can be found in large chambers underground, and many species mate for life, each with a single breeding male.
Most other insects are repelled either by soldier termites, or via a system of 'chemical' warfare with some species able to produce powerful insect repellants that are dispersed through the nest.
Termites are high in protein, even more so than beef, and are considered a delicacy in many countries, including Namibia. Fried termites taste rather like roasted peanuts. In other parts of Africa, termite flour is made, and even termite stock cubes.
Although much research is still needed, termites do not appear to be in any way endangered, with numbers estimated to be either stable or in some cases increasing.
|A cheetah standing on a termite mound|
Share this post on: Facebook Twitter
Tuesday, 18 December 2012
On 7 November 2012, Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) staff was called to pick up five cheetahs that were caught inside traps set out by a farmer in the Gobabis region of Namibia (~ 6 hour drive from CCF headquarters). Before the CCF team arrived, they were informed that one of the cheetahs, a young female, died under unknown circumstances. The farmer led the team through a maze of gravel and dirt roads, and finally arrived to the site of the captured cheetahs. A chicken coop, a water trough, a metal trap-cage and a group of four highly stressed female cheetahs were what we found. After assessing the situation, we decided to capture the cheetahs into wooden boxes in order to transport them back to CCF.
Considering the heat of the day and the stress level of the cheetahs, the team worked as quickly as possible, eventually moving all 4 cats, one at a time, into the trap cage and then to the the transfer crate. The long journey home was not the end of the day. Around 21:00, CCF staff were still working up two of the females. One was an older female (3-5 years old) and the other was an older cub (~18 months). The two cats appeared to be in decent health. The following day, the other two females were worked up. One was a cub, which was in good health, the other was an adult female, whose condition was not as fortunate. This female had old injuries on and in between her paws and pads. Due to the degenerative state of her paws, Otjiwarongo veterinarian, Axel, assisted in the amputation of one of her toes, which had been severely broken. After the procedure, the cheetah recovered normally in a safe, cemented quarantine pen, to prevent her from moving too much and possibly worsening the wounds on her feet.
The amputee female, who was given the name “Toeless,” was scheduled on 15 November to go to the dentist to have two root canals performed on her canines as well as an incisor removal She was taken to Otjiwarongo, and the procedures were carried out by human dentist and loyal friend, Dr. Profitt. Under anaesthetic the condition of her paws was assessed, and although they were getting much better, she still needed more time to heal.
Three weeks later, “Toeless” was anaesthetised gain, but this time Dr. Profitt came to CCF to perform another root canal. Also during this time her pads were checked again and they were looking much better! She was fitted with a satellite collar and the bonding process between her and her previous chicken coop mates began. The four females were all in one pen the following day, and all went well. “Toeless” seemed anxious to have a large pen that she could move around in, so she ran up and down the fence line, while the “Mom” and two cubs hid in the grasses and watched. There was very little interaction between the females as a whole.
The next day, on 8 December 2012, CCF staff captured “Mom,” the other adult female, who may or may not be the mother of the two older, near independent cubs. She was anesthetised and also placed with a GPS/VHF combination collar. After a speedy recovery all four females were once again reunited. We kept the foursome together for another week and tried to bond them by having them share several warthog carcasses. The two adult females showed promising wild behaviours as they quickly opened up the carcass, which can be a very difficult feat for the inexperienced. The two cubs were more hesitant and usually waited to feed after the carcass was already opened.
Finally, on 15 December, the four females were once again captured in transport crates and taken on a 45 minute drive to CCF’s soft-release camp, Bellebenno. This 4,000ha (nearly 10,000 acre) game camp is filled with premium game for these cats to feed on. Oryx, eland, kudu, red hartebeest, steenbok, duiker and warthog are all on the menu, and this time of the year is calving season. We decided on this location as it would give the females the best chance at survival, especially if they all split up.
A warthog carcass was placed in the centre of the four crates that temporarily held the cheetahs. The release was in place. The crate doors were lifted and out ran the four females, in four separate directions, without even a glance at the free warthog. The CCF team quickly departed as to not interfere anymore with their behaviour.
In the following days, the two adult females’ satellite collars fed CCF staff information on their whereabouts. They remained separate from one another and “Mom” went onto our neighbours property after the first day of release. The second day, “Toeless” also left Bellebenno, but returned on day threee. The two cubs' locations are unknown as they were not fitted with satellite collars. Hopefully, several of CCF’s camera traps and ground tracking team will be able to observe the cats in the future, to assess their condition.
All releases are complicated and must be carefully thought out, since each cheetah is different. As these four females were all wild prior to being captured, and are deemed to be healthy, our expectations on their ability to survive are high. With this, we are happy to know that four more cheetahs are back where they belong –in the wild. The survival of the species depends on it.
Ryan Marcel Sucaet
Assistant Cheetah Keeper & Research Assistant
Share this post on: Facebook Twitter