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Abbey, Tintin, Mulder and Scully

The siblings coco hammer bones cheetah siblings

This sibling group came to the AfriCat Foundation in 2004 as orphans. As many of the other cats in the care of the foundation, their mother was shot by a farmer for killing livestock. Being around 8 months old when they arrived, they were never handled by people and that kept them fairly wild around humans. Originally they were not picked for the rehabilitation programme, but later it was felt that there was still more space available within the Okonjima Reserve for 4 more cheetahs.

They were released into the Reserve on the 25th of October 2010. It took them about ten days to make their first kill and it seemed that they were on their way to success. Unfortunately, on the 17th of November 2010 Mulder was badly injured by an eland. The group was trying to catch eland calves and one of the mothers managed to corner Mulder on his own; he was badly gored by a horn.
He was removed from the Reserve on the same day and rushed to the vet clinic in Otjiwarongo. After he was stitched up he was taken back to AfriCat where he started a 3 week recovery period.

cheetahs in the grassDuring this period more bad luck struck the remaining siblings. On the 20th of November, Skully was attacked by a warthog and also rushed to the vet clinic. Although her injuries were apparently superficial, she unfortunately died 2 days later due to kidney failure.

Even though Abbey and Tintin lost 2 members of their coalition within a week, it did not seem to affect their hunting skills. They still managed to make regular kills. A month after Mulder’s attack, he was released back into the Reserve. He was released close to Abbey and Tintin, who recognised him immediately for there was no hostile greeting. 2 days after the reintroduction, Abbey and Tintin went off on their own and left Mulder by himself. He spent the next couple of weeks mostly on the fence line, and we had to support half his diet. He was making some kills, but very irregularly, and it seemed that he was not adapting on his own.

In February 2011, after a few months of the cats struggling in the high grass, due to a good rainy season, we decided to remove all 3 of them out of the Reserve and place them back in a spacious enclosure – together as one group again, to see if they might bond and reform their coalition and once released, help Mulder hone in those inherent hunting skills. That is exactly what happened and once that relationship was back on track we released them back into the wild in early May 2011.

 

cheetah lying downAfter their re-release back into the then, 16 000ha Okonjima Reserve (now 20 000ha) they made a kill on the first day, which was a kudu with a broken leg. They stayed with their kill for 4 days before moving on, which is not common cheetah behaviour. They made two more kills during the following week. All seemed ‘purrrrfect’ . . .

They kept on moving, combing the Reserve, until they reached the boundary fence.
After that all started going downhill. . . .

They stopped moving around and, confusingly for all who monitored them, stayed against the fence line, following it all the way to the entrance gate of the Reserve. There was no apparent reason why they stopped hunting. After 7 days of no luck, we gave them a small piece of meat each to sustain them to carry on trying. Hunger is the only tool forcing them to hunt. After that first meal they stopped hunting completely and stayed in the same area. During this time most of the game species had moved off – Abbey, Tintin, and Mulder did not follow!
Even after numerous attempts to move them away from the area they kept on returning to the same spot. This forced us to feed them more and more, seeing as they were starting to lose condition. It was apparent that we were going to have to make a decision about their future.

 

tracking rehabilitated cheetahFour dedicated Paws returnee volunteers spent the next few days monitoring them from sunrise to sunset, 6 days running, hoping to report back that they are back on track. Gabi, Steven, Susan, Derek, and AJ carefully kept their distance, but also kept an eye on every move they made trying to see what they reacted to and what prey in the Reserve grabbed their interest.

Toby, a single male cheetah who had also been closely monitored since April 2011 this year when he developed an eye injury (see website newsletter re Toby’s eye) had also stopped hunting since his re-release once his eye injury had healed. Team PAWS also monitored him for a while hoping to witness Toby making any attempts to hunt. Again, no luck.

 

With the observations that they made over this period we were able to come up with the following potential conclusions:

1. In the group that included Abbey, Tintin, and Mulder, Mulder seemed to be the one showing the least interest in game around them;
2. Tintin looked like the only one who wanted to hunt, but was held back by Mulder;
3. Abbey stayed behind one day after the other two got up and walked off, and then stayed on her own with no influence by the other two, yet she made no attempt to hunt on her own;
4. Even though we had to subsidise their diet every 4 to 5 days and every time led them far away from the fence line they always returned to the same spot after eating;
5. When on the move, Tintin always walked within a few meters of the road, in the bush, but Mulder walked in the road.
6. Then they started developing the bad habit of going up to all vehicles, looking for food.

 

cheetah silouetteTintin was the only one that tried to hunting again. When Tintin and Abbey were on their own and hunting successfully, Nov 2010 – Feb 2011, we were unfortunately never lucky enough to witness a kill so we were not sure ‘who’ was doing the hunting and whether both were helping or whether it was only a more dominant cat. The mistake we made might have been to remove them from the Reserve to re-connect with Mulder? Seeing as he was taken out and put back 3 times, it might have affected his willingness to hunt and as strange as it might seem to us, some captive-raised cats find comfort in the familiar world of being fed regularly by man – it’s much easier.

 

The 3 familiar items that Abbey, Tintin, and Mulder seemed to react to the most, were what you find around a captive situation (sadly, none of the items below are anything which tastes good and can be eaten):

1. Fence lines;
2. Quadbikes bringing food;
3. People talking and moving around.

All the above relate to an easy meal.

 

We had three options to consider:

1. Remove Mulder out of the group, and see if that would make a difference;
2. Separate Tintin from the rest of the group, and see if he still had what it took to hunt;
3. Remove all three cats from the wild and give the next group a chance.

We chose option 3.

 

It seems unfair to keep cheetahs who are not hunting in the Reserve and who need to be fed every 4 to 5 days, as there are 20 plus other cheetah ready to become part of AfriCat’s Rehabilitation Programme, and who might be very successful.

Abbey, Tintin, Mulder, and Scully spent the first 7 years of their lives in captivity, which might have been too long and we might have to consider the possibility of picking much younger cats in future for the programme.

 

 

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