Following my life and work at the Cheetah Conservation Fund

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Back Again

I know I haven’t made any posts in the past few months as my internship with CCF ended back in August, but some exciting things have been taking place recently so I thought I would post a quick update. Even though I left CCF back in August, my relationship with CCF did not end and I continued to help in any way I could remotely from the States, and I was invited to go back to CCF during Christmas break between semesters in school. And so after celebrating Christmas early with my family, I departed for Namibia and have been here since. It’s absolutely wonderful to be back and almost as soon as I arrived I was thrown right back into things as if I never left. The Okakarara Ambassadors seemed to recognize me immediately and I was very happy to see them as well. There are a lot of new interns and volunteers here and even a couple of new staff members, so it’s been fun getting to know everyone and what their role at CCF is. I don’t have much right now but I’ll post again soon. Merry Christmas to everyone and I’ve put up some pictures of the OK cubs (who really aren’t cubs anymore)… they have grown so much since I left. The picture above is of route B1 from Windhoek to Otjiwarongo.

-Eli

The road to CCF from Otjiwarongo
The ambassadors
Kaijay
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The end….

My time at CCF for the summer of 2011 has come to and end. Since late middle school/early high school I have been following CCF and its work, keeping up with the incredibly successful conservation programs it has in place and learning all I could by reading and observing from 9,000 miles away. From the time I developed a true interest in the cheetah and CCF, it had been a dream of mine to one day complete a student internship at CCF. Now, I’m back in the states getting ready to head back to school and when I realize that I did just that, it doesn’t quite seem real. If you had told me this time last year that I would be spending the summer of 2011 in Namibia I probably would not have believed you. Early this past January I decided to test my luck and apply for the position and at 10:49 am March 14, 2011 I received the acceptance notification from CCF. Completely surprised because I didn’t really have much previous relevant experience, I immediately began sorting out all the logistics involved. I had a couple of scares in regards to making it happen, but in the end things worked out and on May 31st I arrived at CCF not really knowing what to expect. CCF does very well letting the world know what’s going on and teaching people what they can from a long distance, but it really can’t compare to actually being on site and experiencing things first hand.

Again, going into it, I really did not know what to expect but I’m being completely honest when I say I learned and experienced more than I could have ever imagined. So much goes on at CCF, from education and public outreach to research and innovative conservation programs. It’s such as fast paced environment that I honestly believe it is impossible not to learn and experience new things while you are there. An internship is required for my animal husbandry major Captive Wildlife Care and Education, and although I gained so much in regards to proper husbandry and things pertinent to that program, I also gained tons in regards to my other major Wildlife Biology and to life in general in the conservation world. Looking back now I am baffled at what I got to do while there. I will be forever grateful to Dr. Laurie Marker and the other staff at CCF for providing such a meaningful and beneficial experience. They were all more than helpful, and really do care about the people who come through to help at CCF. I shall never forget my time at CCF and even if I was never to return (which is very unlikely), it will always be part of me.

Sadly, this will be my last post. The summer is over and it’s time to move forward with things. I appreciate everyone who has been following along and I strongly encourage everyone looking into CCF even more. If it seems something you are interested in there are many many ways to get involved. You can help spread awareness, can support CCF financially, and can even volunteer your time on site as I did. Regardless of the method you choose to help, every little bit helps and know that even the smallest contribution is a step forward in the fight for the cheetah’s survival. Thank you so much for your interest and if you would like to help, all you need to do is visit CCF’s website at www.cheetah.org to find out everything you need to know. Regardless of your walk of life, there is something you can do. Even though this is my last post I’m more than happy to help anyone in any way that I can. I’m happy to answer any questions that anyone may have. Many thanks….

– Eli

Here are some pictures of the Stars running… these are the 3 cats that were cut from the dead mother after she had been shot. Very beautiful animals….

taking the OK cubs to our airstrip for a run
myself with the OK cubs
myself with Kaijay

Hi-Fi Kill and Picnic Dam Waterhole Count

Quite a lot took place last week here at CCF. Early in the week, as I was walking to the main center in the morning from Lightfoot Camp (where I stay half the time here), I discovered an oryx that had been killed by some predator, most likely a cheetah. The animal was chased into the Eland cheetah pen fence where it was caught, killed, and eaten. It slightly bent the fence, and the horns of the oryx were caught in the electrical part of the fence, so I had to move it. The four girls in the Eland pen appeared to have been standing right there since the kill, wishing they could have gotten to it. Poor girls were so close yet so far away to a wonderful fresh oryx! I assume they heard the kill happening and investigated, resulting in having to stand and watch as a wonderful meal was consumed without getting the opportunity to take part. Because of this, I found our lead keeper Juliette, informed her and we went and removed the kill. Later on, we checked the camera trap in that area and sure enough Hi-Fi (the cheetah I have been tracking) was around with a bloody face and huge belly. I’ve never seen a wild kill before, so this was very exciting. There is a picture below…. and just for a warning it is graphic.

One of the Eland girls trying to get at the kill

Last weekend we had our annual waterhole count of all the 25 waterholes on CCF property. There were 50 volunteers here to count so it was a very busy and active weekend. I was fortunate enough to be placed at Picnic Dam, which is the waterhole closest to the the Waterburg Plateau and deepest in the Rhino Reserve. Rhinos, leopards, and a variety of other carnivores are spotted here, so I knew we were going to have the chance to see some rare sights. Sure enough at around 11 am, a black rhino shows up. Very few people here at CCF have seen one of our 6 or so rhinos so we were very lucky to get the sighting. And to make things even better, at about 4:45 pm, and huge male leopard shows up. Both of these guys walk around the dam (what they call ponds here in Namibia), and spend quite some time right next to the hide only about 50 feet away, so we got some great photo opportunities. Earlier during the count and African Hawk lands on a tree right next to the hide with a kill, which was really neat as well. We got some great photos of that as well. I’ve posted pictures below of all these sightings. All in all, I saw less animals at this count than at the other counts I have done, but the animals we saw here were much cooler so this was by far the best waterhole count of the summer.

My time is coming to a close here at CCF with only about a week and a half left. I’m looking forward to being back in the States, but I’m dreading leaving the things I have come to love here at CCF. It’s been a great experience, but I do have a bit of time left. There will only be a couple of updates to come until I’ll be signing off for good, but no need to worry about that just yet. I’m open to any questions and comments. Until next time….

– Eli

This would have been a great image if I had managed to get it in focus…. I still like it though
After marking a ground rub, the leopard rolled over for a scratch only about 40 feet from the hide

The view of the Waterburg Plateau from the hide
Picture of the hide we spent 12 hours in

Promotion…..

So in an earlier post I mentioned that we have been running the Okakarara cubs on a regular basis. These guys are almost a year old now and recently we promoted them to a larger enclosure for their runs. Their own enclosure is where we used to run them, however in the past couple of weeks we were feeling that they had outgrown that enclosure while running, so we decided it would be best to move them to another one of the cheetah enclosures for the runs. Their first time in the new enclosure and on the new run course, which was mid-last week, went very well, and yesterday was their third time and things are still going well. It’s a new place for them so they really enjoy exploring the area as well as the opportunity to run at speeds they couldn’t reach before because of space limitations. Senay in particular has been very fast and enthusiastic on the course. I imagine that visitors will enjoy the opportunity to see these guys running when they are full grown. I haven’t had much opportunity to get pictures of them running in the new area because I have been so busy operating the lure machine, but yesterday I managed to get a few shots, some of which are posted below. There is also one posted of me operating the lure.

CCF is currently mid stride in a long term cheetah census using camera traps as the data collection method. We have about 15-20 camera traps set up all around CCF property at trees that cheetahs using as marking and communications posts which we call “play trees.” We have done short term censuses in this same way, however this is the first long term camera trap census that has been done. Our ecology team feels that the data collected on the short term will differ from this long term study due to the ways in which cheetahs, particularly female cheetahs, use these play trees. In addition to the cheetah census, the data collected will be used in a variety of other ways. One of the most significant being the study of the relationship between cheetahs and leopards in regards to these play trees, because both cheetahs and leopards have been seen to use the same trees in what we think to be similar ways. I have the responsibility of driving around to all these camera traps and collecting and changing the SD cards. It takes me a few hours to check just half of the cameras because they are spread out so far in CCF’s property. Yet I have really enjoyed this task because it has allowed me to see a lot of CCF that most people do not typically see, and has also provided me the opportunity to participate in CCF’s research.

So not too much to update everyone on. It’s business as usual here at CCF. As always I’m open to any questions or comments. Until next time…

 

-Eli

CCF Annual Fundraising Gala and Pictures!

This past Friday was CCF’s Annual Fundraising Gala dinner which was held in Windhoek the capital of Namibia. It’s an event that is designed to raise funds and spread awareness about CCF’s work throughout Namibia. Most of the attendees are from Namibia so it really helps to spread awareness about CCF in CCF’s own host country. At the event there is a wonderful dinner, guest speakers, and silent auction on items donated to CCF for the Gala from businesses and people from all over. Most of CCF’s staff attended the event, but a few of us had to stay behind to care for the many animals we have here. Myself, another intern Stephanie, one full time staff, a couple of the tourism staff, and the farm workers were the only people still here at CCF so it was a very busy and very quiet weekend. Even so, it was still a wonderful weekend and the Gala was a great success.

There isn’t too much more to update everyone on, however I did take some pictures last week of the OK Cubs that I think came out very well so I will post a number of those for everyone to enjoy (the name(s) of the cat(s) in the photos are in the caption below the images). As always I’m always open to comments and would love to answer any questions. Until next time…

– Eli

My favorite picture out of the bunch… this is Peter
Tiger Lily
Kaijay
Myself with Peter
Peter
Senay…. and yes you can see my shadow which is disappointing
Kaijay
not 100% but I think this is Tiger Lily
Kaijay
Senay
Kaijay
Kaijay
Kaijay

Waterburg Hike and 2nd 12-hour Waterhole Count

Not too much new stuff to update everyone on, however recently we did another 12 hour waterhole count in our Bellebeno farm and last Sunday a few of us went on a hike to the Waterburg Plateau at the edge of CCF property. We do waterhole counts in Bellebeno farm once a month to monitor our game populations and to determine the health of each population. We use this data to set our own harvest limits within this game-fenced farm as well as for game research purposes. This time I was counting at a different waterhole than the first count, but we saw mostly the same species as last time. However, we did see a steenbok (a very small species of antelope) as well as a honey badger which was really cool. Below are pictures of the steenbok and honey badger.

Waterburg Plateau is a very large plateau at the edge of CCF’s property. CCF owns the precipice side of the Waterburg (see picture) and we have a trail from the base of the plateau to the base of the rock edge. On the top is a national game reserve. It’s an easy and short hike but it gives you awesome views of CCF’s property and the Waterburg. It is a very beautiful hike and I would recommend going to the Waterburg if anyone ever decides to visit Namibia. There are pictures below. Again, I know it’s not much but there should be another update soon. As always I’m 0pen to any questions and welcome any comments. Until next time…

 

– Eli

Meeting the public

So for the past couple of weeks I have had a big role in working with the 4 cheetah cubs we are raising to be ambassadors for CCF. Chewbakka, our last ambassador, unfortunately died earlier this year after a 16 year career at CCF and due to that loss it was time for us to begin raising more cheetahs to follow in his pawprints. Last August we received four three week old cheetah cubs from the government of Namibia who had confiscated them from a farmer in the Okakarara area of Namibia who shot their mother and captured the cubs. This is why they are currently called the Okakarara Cubs. Because they came to us at such a young age, there was no hope for them to be released into the wild and we decided to hand raise them and train them to become our new ambassador cheetahs.

Now these four cubs (Kaijay, Peter, Tiger Lily, and Senay) are 11 months old and they are growing very fast. As ambassadors, for the rest of their lives they will be meeting people and the public around Namibia and here at CCF’s main center so it is very important for them to be very use and habituated to humans. We spend time with them everyday socializing, while at the same time respecting them for the wild animals they are and will always be. Although they are ambassadors in training and are very comfortable with humans, we always remember the fact that they will always have their instincts and will never be CCF’s “pets.” We consider them to be more of employees of CCF and ambassadors of the cheetah species.

One of the things we do daily is take them on walks to meet the guest we have here at CCF on a daily basis. It’s not quite the same as walking a dog, yet it has similar qualities. Obviously, much more patience and awareness is needed because they are wild, but again because they have been with people their entire lives and are habituated to humans, we can take them on these walks and use them in this way without at all making them uncomfortable. I’ve greatly enjoyed working with these guys and being one of their handlers. I have learned so much but I have also been able to utilize so many of the things I have learned at Unity. I don’t have many pictures but here are a few. Again like always I am always happy to answer any questions and welcome any comments. Until next time…

– Eli

Myself with Senay, Dr. Marker with Tiger Lily and Andreas who was a high school volunteer
Again, myself with Senay and Kalina, one of our Earthwatch volunteers on the left. Although they get a very close view, we don’t typically allow the general public to touch the ambassadors.
This is a random picture of Kaijay just before a run. We collar them during runs just to help us identify them while they are running.
I know it’s random, but if you ever wondered what cheetah claws look like while the are eating donkey bones….. here you go. Cheetahs have non-retractable claws, which is unique among all the cats (except kind of for their dew claw which is semi-retractable).

African Safari 3D

So I know I’m almost a week late on my week 4 update, but last week internet here wasn’t working so well and I finally have found time to update everyone on what has been going on. Last week a large film crew was here to get shots of our cheetahs for a full length feature film they are working on called African Safari 3D. From what I understand, the film is about kind of a mix between a documentary and normal film in which the two “actors” lead the audience on a safari through Africa from the southern portion of Namibia to Mt. Kilimanjaro in Kenya. It’s being filmed in 3D and is set to be released sometime in June or July of 2012. All last week we were all extremely busy getting the film crew the shots they needed plus taking care of the normal day to day activities of CCF.

The reason this film crew came to CCF was mainly to get footage of cheetahs running, so we did our best to provide good opportunities for a usable shot. They came in and filmed at our normal cheetah runs, but we also allowed them to come along for feeding. For some of our cats, we run them behind our feeding truck before they are fed in order to exercise them, so rather than use our own truck we fed out of one of theirs that had a camera and a stabilizer with it. I unfortunately didn’t get to come along for this but I saw it from a distance and it looked really neat. Here is a picture of the crew and the truck with the camera with our lead cheetah keeper.

Juliette, our lead keeper, is near the middle of the image with the brown hat

In the film there are two “actors” who are more of guides than actors. One of these people is Kevin Richardson who is a lion and hyena enthusiast who has a center in South Africa. Kevin is well known in the wildlife world, especially when dealing with lions and I got to spend a good amount of time talking with him. We had an 1 1/2 hour conversation about what it is he has been doing and his outlook on conservation and issues surrounding the lion. He is often criticized for the way he works, but after talking with him I know he is in it for good reasons and has a very good outlook on conservation and the issues surrounding the animals he is passionate about and caring for them in captivity. I really enjoyed spending time with him and Mara, the “actress,” during the time they were here.

Myself, Kevin, and Mara

Myself, Mara, Kevin, Ben (the director and producer), Peter (sound designer), and June (advisor). order from right to left

That was pretty much the most exciting part of last week. Again, I know this update is late but when you are in the middle of Africa 45 minutes from the closest civilization, internet is not always the best. I will post the update for this week in a few days. As always, I’m happy to answer any questions and I welcome any comments. Until next time….

– Eli

Cheetah Workup, 12 Hour Waterhole Count, and Cub Run

I’m in the third week of my internship here at CCF and work has not slowed down at all. We are currently in the middle of an international Conservation Biology course in which we have participants from all over the world including Brazil, Iran, Australia, England, Ethiopia, and Niger. These students work and come from many different areas and professions involving wildlife, but all have a passion for conservation. It is really cool and encouraging to see that people across the world care and are passionate about wildlife and its continued existence on Earth. They are typically busy all day with lectures and practicals, but we get plenty of time to talk and learn about what is going on in other parts of the world. I have met a lot of very interesting people.

Once a year every cheetah at CCF undergoes a medical workup or check up to ensure their health, to diagnose any problems and plan appropriate treatment, and to collect any needed data. These workups typically happen all at once in April but this year, three cheetah workups were postponed for the Conservation Biology course. Last week these 3 cheetahs were anesthetized and brought in for their workup like normal but this time there were students present to learn about how these workups are done. Although this was mainly for the international students, the student interns were involved as well in assisting Dr. Marker and our vet nurse, Rosie, in the workup. It was my first time doing something like that and it was really cool to be involved in that sort of work along side Dr. Marker. We all learned a good deal about how that sort of procedure takes place and the course students really seemed to enjoy it as well.

On Monday we did a cheetah run, but this time we ran the ambassador cubs. These guys are 10 1/2 months old and have a ton of energy so they run exceptionally well. We do it mainly for their health and to help them develop properly, but it is of course a great sight for visitors as well. We are trying to run these guys every three days, there are some of the pictures I took posted below.

Yesterday I went on my first 12 hour waterhole count. We all were dropped off (four pairs) one of four man-made waterholes in Bellebeno camp at 6:00 in the morning. It was our task to observe the waterhole and to count all the animals that came in. Bellebeno is a fenced game camp we use for research, cheetah “soft” releases (the step before release into the wild), and as a food source for our cheetahs. We collect this data in order to understand how the populations within this area are doing so we can establish our own harvest limits and restrictions and to know how the ecosystem is doing as a whole. It was a great experience and was actually relaxing. Twelve hours in a hide is a long time but it went by rather fast and we got to see a bunch of wildlife, including a very large family group of giraffe, which is always great. There are some pictures posted below.

So far things have been great and have been getting even better. There are more pictures below and hopefully I’ll have so more pictures up soon. Please feel free to ask questions or comment. I would be happy to answer any question that anyone may have. Until next time…

-Eli

This is Kaijay, he is typically one of the best runners out of the four.

This is one of the groups of zebra we saw during the 12 hour count

This was the large family group (9) of giraffe we saw during the 12 hour count

Off to a great start!

This is the view from inside one of the main center’s enclosures where we do the cheetah runs. In the background is the Waterberg Plateau.

So I have been here at the CCF for about a week and a half now and so much has happened! Since I have arrived, I have had the opportunity to do so much and have experienced so many things. After orientation on my first day here I jumped right into things and immediately began work. I started off with more broad assignments until we decided where I fit in here at CCF. So far I have been involved with cheetah husbandry, guardian dog and goat care, general maintenance work (landscaping, and automotive work), some computer work (still in this process, and will be for a while), and one of my favorite jobs… cheetah runs.

Here at the CCF we have just over 50 resident cheetahs. When assigned with cheetah husbandry, we start off by preparing the meat for the cats and any meds that the cats may need (right now we only have two cheetahs who need meds). Our local Namibian farmhands take care of cutting the meat into proper portions but we have to count the pieces and make sure there is enough and that they are suitable. Overall on average it takes about 1 donkey (which are bought from local farmers) per day to feed all the animals under our care. However, we do often times have other sorts of meat come in that we most definitely utilize. Last week we had giraffe (which lasted for a few days) and I think I saw an oryx in the meat room as well. CCF is composed of multiple farms and on each of those farms there are multiple “camps” or enclosures in which all the cheetahs are spread throughout (as I mentioned in the earlier post). So once we have all the food prepared and ready to go, we load it up in a vehicle and typically start out our day at either the Eland camp, which is right next to the main center, or the Bellebeno camp which is about at 30 minute drive from the main center. During the drive to Bellebeno, we typically get great views of a lot of wildlife because we pass a couple of waterholes. We never leave CCF property and all the cheetahs we currently have are located in the closest farms to CCF so you can imagine the size of CCF’s property. The cats at Bellebeno are currently the furthest captive cats from the main center and they are candidates for release into the wild, which is very exciting. It typically takes the husbandry team 9-12 and 2-3 to feed all of the cats outside of the main center. At the main center we have 8 cheetahs (4 males, 4 females) that are fed where visitors and guests can observe, which provides great opportunities for education and interpretation. I really enjoy feeding, but it is only one part of the work that goes on here at CCF.

Here at CCF, one of the most important and effective conservation programs we have in operation is the Livestock Guarding Dog program. We have 8 dogs here at the CCF main center which we use for breeding so that the pups can be donated to the local farmers. For more information on how this program works, click here. Along with the dogs, we have a large herd of goats and sheep, which we primarily have for training purposes. Basically, to prevent farmers from killing cheetahs and other predators (which is one of the cheetah’s greatest threats) CCF donates Anatolian Shepherds to the farmers. These dogs are actually guarding dogs rather than shepherd dogs and very effectively protect the herd from any predator. Along with the dogs we have a large herd of goats and sheep, which we primarily have for training purposes. However, CCF has recently been making goat cheese from goat milk harvested from our goats.

As I am sure you know, the cheetah is the world’s fastest land animal. Everything about the cheetah’s physiology is designed for speed and therefore it is important for the cat’s health to get regular exercise. At CCF we exercise our cats by running them with a lure machine, similar to the ones used for greyhound racing. I have recently began helping with the cheetah runs and it is a job that I enjoy very much. We typically do the runs in the morning a couple of times a week, but we have done runs for the OK Cubs (ambassador cheetahs in training) in the evening. I have included pictures of the cheetah run and the lure machine we use below.

I have posted a lot of pictures for everyone to see. Read the captions for more information on what you are seeing.

Thanks so much for reading and please comment and feel free to ask questions! I would love to answer any questions that anyone might have. Until next time…

– Eli

One of the girls waiting to run
Run in progress…. here the cats can only get up to about half speed before they have to make a turn.

We often see giraffe on our way to Bellebeno camp to feed. They are the most curious animals that frequent the waterholes.
Zebra are rather skittish when compared to giraffe and would only stop to investigate in the cover of the trees.
This is an oryx, which we see all the time. They are like the whitetail deer of Africa.
Typically we drive into the camp and run the cheetahs behind the truck before feeding, but this day we couldn’t because of the vehicle we had. So we just tossed the meat over the fence, being careful not to hit the cats.