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Einstein once wrote "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed", and so it was with a strong desire not to die, but to continue to attempt to unravel the mysteries of Namibia’s large carnivores, that the reconstituted AfriCat Scientific Committee met on the 30th of June 2013.

It was agreed that the role of the committee is to afford advice and assistance to the Foundation in developing research projects along the lines of its stated aims and objectives. Permanent members of the committee include Tammy Hoth, Dr. Mark Jago, Prof. Henk Bertschinger, Dr. Gerhard Steenkamp, Dr. Adrian Tordiffe, Dr. Rina Grant-Biggs, Donna Hanssen, Wayne Hanssen, Dr. Laura Brandt, Helen Newmarch and Dr. Sonja Boy.

Namibia’s Draft National Cheetah Management Plan is an evolving document which will guide present and future generations of research into all aspects of cheetah biology and conservation. It will also provide both a corner stone and a spring board for much of AfriCat’s future work, which will include:

Wild population priorities

  1. Demonstration of the hypothesis that allowing carnivores on game farms is not a threat to game populations and there may be value added
  2. Quantify and analyse human-wildlife conflict in selected study areas, implement a mitigation process and test whether or not the mitigation process is working. (carnivores this project will be aimed at: lions, wild dogs, hyaenas, leopards and cheetahs)
  3. Evaluate the effectiveness of different types of AfriCat’s education activities and develop guidelines to improve environmental education on the basis of the lessons learnt.
  4. Evaluation of benefits of AfriCat activities to all levels of rural communities adjacent to reserves.
  5. Improve our understanding of population management of free-ranging populations of large predators within fenced game reserves.
  6. Improve our understanding of nutrition and prey base choice of free-ranging carnivores in relation to long-term individual and population health.
  7. Contribute to the understanding of genetic diversity of the carnivore population in Namibia in relation to their demography.
  8. Determine large carnivore population numbers for Namibia.

Captive population priorities

  1. Evaluation of the long-term health and welfare of captive carnivores at The AfriCat Foundation.
  2. Long-term reversibility of deslorelin contraception in cheetahs.
  3. Cost-benefit analysis of keeping carnivores in captivity.

The meeting agreed to the need for researcher guidelines and agreements which will include details on funding and supervision. A system which will allow for the rating of a potential research project will be initiated to guide the committee in assessing a project’s relevance to the Foundation’s core scientific aims.

Projects already approved include the much-needed collaborative work with N/ a’ankusê and the Namibia Nature Foundation into Namibia’s wild dog population in the Mangetti area, and the vital lion research project in Hobatere in the north west of Namibia. A number of other exciting proposal’s into Namibia’s free-ranging populations of carnivores were discussed and will be reviewed by members of the committee in due course.

On the captive front Drs Tordiffe and Steenkamp will develop a program on the comprehensive long term health monitoring and immune-competence of captive cheetah and other felids at AfriCat, while Prof Bertschinger will continue his valuable work into the reversibility of the contraceptive implant Deslorelin, as well as developing a system for quantifying the benefits of dental intervention in captive carnivores.

Additionally the ongoing predator and prey population density study in the Okonjima Nature reserve will be formalised and taken to the next fascinating level with the help of the highly experienced Dr Rina Grant.

All in all the future looks very exciting and challenging. AfriCat’s Scientific Committee will have its work cut out, but the members are convinced that the Foundation will continue to be a major player in Namibia’s predator conservation community. Einstein also once wrote "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts"; and so it is AfriCat’s firm belief that the Foundation will continue to be counted through her research into that which counts.
Written by Dr Mark Jago

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