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Introducing Ms Helen Newmarch – Heading our Conservation Through Education Programmes

An introduction to Helen Newmarch . . . .  head of education:

"It is rather strange having to write about oneself . . . . but "one has gotta do what one gotta do" . . . . so here goes!

Helen Newmarch Africat helen with her africat environmental education class Namibia

I am Tammy, Wayne, Donna and Rosalea’s youngest aunt. Their mother, Rose Hanssen, was my eldest sister and my dearest friend. Consequently I spent a great deal of my youth on Okonjima with Rose and her family. Many long hot but happy hours were spent droving cattle when Okonjima was still a cattle ranch and walking home in the dark (no doubt past many leopards!) after putting our horses out in the paddocks. I have always loved being out in the "bush/veld" which intrigued me from an early age. This is probably due partly to genetics but definitely largely due to my mother, Mrs Edith Bagot-Smith, who always had time to stop and investigate and to ponder over the many amazing mysteries of nature. "A HUGE THANK YOU, MOTHER"

I am a Namibian by birth and did my primary schooling in Windhoek at St. Georges Diocesan School. I attended Victoria Girls High School in Grahamstown, South Africa for my secondary education. After a year as a Rotary Exchange Student from South West Africa to South Australia I did my B.Sc. degree at the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg. My Higher Education Diploma was done at UCT, SA after which I returned to U of N to do my Honours Degree in Zoology and Ornithology. My first teaching post was at Swakopmund Secondary School and I was planning to work on my Masters Degree under Prof. Gordon Maclean on the Damara Tern at the same time. However Cupid won the day at the end of that year and I married my Zimbabwean sweetheart instead in the garden at the current Main Camp! . . . . much to Prof Maclean’s chagrin!!

 

helen with an adult paws pupil Safaris Most of the next 34 yrs were spent in Zimbabwe either teaching or farming except for a few years in both Zambia and Cape Town due to the political situation in Zimbabwe. Sadly Barry, my husband, passed away in 1996 but as I had 4 children to educate and did not want to add yet another trauma of moving I decided to stay on and continue farming. We managed to survive the Zimbabwe Land Acquisition Programme until September 2010 when the Zimbabwe Government gave us 6hrs to evacuate our home and farm. To date not a cent of compensation . . . . ? !
Fortunately for me and my two younger children my nephew and nieces, the Okonjima Hanssen Family, invited me back home to take on the Okonjima/ AfriCat Education Programme! So here I am and that briefly is my history but what about our Programme?

As a result of many factors during the last 20 yrs, Okonjima and AfriCat have come to realize, as have many other people and organizations, that the most significant contribution one can make to conservation is through education.


How do we propose to do this ?

Education can be and should be a life-long process. We are never too old to learn and in fact discovering new concepts and ideas helps to keep us young at heart and our minds active even though the body bit is rather more tricky! Consequently we have used the usual division of primary, secondary and tertiary (including adult) components. The Education programmes are run from 2 bases, Okonjima and the AfriCat North Base

Okonjima:
helen with a grade 1 graduate Holiday AfricaOur PERIVOLI OKONJIMA COUNTRY SCHOOL is our PRIMARY section. Here we cater for our staff children from the age of 2 to 10yrs and hopefully, in the future, up to the end of the normal primary school. We put a lot of emphasis on our pre-primary section because, as we all know, this is the most critical learning phase. Naturally we also concentrate on environmental education and our pupils have 2 afternoons a week dedicated to EE. The other two afternoons the children play sport and are taught the very important concept of personal fitness. In fact we try to imprint the slogan: "health is our greatest wealth".

 

AfriCat North Base:
The SECONDARY component is made up of 2 parts and also at the 2 locations.

Okonjima: home of the AfriCat Foundation
Firstly, children come out to us for environmental education camps of varying length and complexity. Here they are able to make use of our wonderful "classrooms" . . . . the 20,000ha Okonjima Private Nature Reserve where four rehabilitated large carnivore species and their prey species can be seen and . . . . the AfriCat Carnivore Care and Information Centre. Here they are able to see the large cats at close quarters which is very exciting and informative.

Secondly our EE teacher, Mr AJ Rousseau, will be heading out to the schools in the far out rural areas armed with all his EE information so as to reach as many children as possible. In both these programmes we identify interested and or capable children to attend follow up courses at AfriCat so as to hopefully ensure some future conservationists! . . . . and especially those that will be leaders!

Africat North Base
This has a similar division but with different emphasis due to its location. Here Mrs Tammy Hoth assisted by Mr Sydney DirSuwei also run camps, but focus mainly on the human wildlife conflict in the adjacent areas and its solutions. The older students go out to the communities and participate in building predator proof night kraals (small holding paddocks) and help repair fences so as to get actively involved which greatly assists their understanding and hopefully future commitment.

 

helen guiding with AJ and volunteer Lara Endangered WildlifeThe TERTIARY programme has many facets, but we can also divide it into 3 main sections:
"At HOME" . . . . this is also comprised of 2 main areas . . . . continuous guide training to ensure we have the best guides in the country and then the adult education programme for our staff. The latter also indirectly assists the primary programme via the parents being more able to assist their children.

 

"At PAWS" . . . .  As the PAWS centre is now no longer being used for the volunteer programme it will be used for tertiary training camps. These will mainly be either for guides (training or assessments) or for teachers. The teacher courses will be Environmental Education courses for practicing and student teachers. (This is still in the planning and preparation stage but hopefully will start in 2013) The PAWS centre will also be available for hire by other organizations if it is available. The Perivoli Schools Trust has already booked to bring out the teachers on their Early Childhood Development courses. We are also hoping to be able to offer internships to a few conservation students in 2013 . . . . either also at PAWS or possibly based at Main Camp.

 

AT AFRICAT NORTH BASE
The work done by Africat North in the field of human wildlife conflict is also a form of adult education! . . . . and of course is the most challenging form because we adults get so set in our ways!  . . . especially the older we get! . . . .  and many of us farmers fall into that category!

 

This and many other challenges await us in 2013 which we look forward to in our constant hope and desire to make a significant contribution to conservation in Namibia . . . . through EDUCATION!"

Written by Helen Newmarch

 

Last Updated on Friday, 01 March 2013 23:23

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The Tusk Trust & Daily Telegraph Join in . . .

Report on Spes Bona Primary School’s visit to The Okonjima Nature Reserve and AfriCat’s Environmental Education Centre

3rd - 5th October 2012.

THE TUSK TRUST & DAILY TELEGRAPH JOIN IN . . .

charlie mayhew and Nigel Richardson charlie mayhew
Charlie Mayhew (TUSK) and Nigel Richardson (THE DAILY TELEGRAPH)  Charlie Mayhew (TUSK) 

DAY 1:

Spes Bona day 1On the 3rd of October 2012 we had the pleasure of hosting 18 children from the Spes Bona Primary School at Okonjima and AfriCat’s Environmental Education Program.
The school is based in Otjiwarongo and caters for about a 1000 children from grades 1 up to 7.

For our VIP TUSK TRUST visit, we chose Spes Bona as it is one of the local schools and is one of the schools that the children who attend The Perivoli Okonjima Country School might move to as we currently only go up to Grade 4.

Furthermore they had never had the opportunity of a field trip before. Unfortunately we had to choose the top 18 scholars, because we cannot transport, nor accommodate more than that, even though there are 40 children in each class at Spes Bona.

 

Spes Bona schoolThe children who visited stayed for 2 nights and were accompanied by 2 teachers from the school. The average age was 13 and there were 5 boys and 13 girls all in grade 7.
The 3 days were spent doing a variety of different activities including game drives, educational games as well as lectures on the different aspects concerning conservation and the importance of awareness of our environment and the impact we as humans have on it.

We emphasise "having fun" at the same time as learning because we all remember the "good times" and we know this to be an effective "foot in the door" so to speak.

 

 

AFRICAT’S ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION PRGM

Spes Bona elementsSpes Bona plasticbags

The morning of their arrival we started with a talk about the 4 basic requirements that are essential for life to exist on earth, namely; - sunlight, water, soil, and air. We challenged the scholars to come up with ideas on how we can help to protect and conserve these elements and also made sure they understood the importance of the elements and how one element cannot go without the other. We also discussed the difference between the 'elements on the periodic table' and the term "elements" we use during the talk to ensure there were no confusion.

Spes Bona treasure hunt Spes Bona treasure hunt Spes Bona treasure hunt
Spes Bona swimming Spes Bona treasure hunt

The talk was followed by a treasure hunt which was based on the above discussion to see whether it was fully understood and as a fun activity. Then it was time for a swim! . . . . . in wonderful water!

 

Spes Bona termite moundIn the afternoon we went on a nature walk, showing and discussing different aspects about the fauna and flora that make up our beautiful surroundings. We looked at different tracks, common trees, insects and birds that are found within our reserve. We also had a look at termite mounds, and discussed how they work and the amazing ability of the termites to control temperatures in a very dry hot climate.

 

making rope making rope making rope
making rope Spes Bona nature walk Spes Bona nature walk

We ended up in a dry river bed where the children were given a chance to dig for water. I found it quite amazing that the majority of the children did not know that you could find water in these rivers by digging only a few centimeters. One would think that traditionally this would have been taught to them by their parents. Sadly and clearly not anymore!

digging for waterdigging for water

DAY 2:
Day 2 started with an early morning game drive to see the different animals found within Okonjima’s game reserve. Concentrating mostly on herbivores we explained the difference between grazers and browsers and showed them examples of these animals. The kids were excited and amazed to see the majority of the animals as most had never seen a giraffe or a zebra in their life, despite living in a country where they are common. This assured us that we were on the right track!

giraffeimpala

After the drive we had a talk and discussion about the importance of large carnivores in an ecosystem. We concentrated mostly on cheetah and leopard as these are the two cats that cause the most conflict between people and animals on farmland. We made sure the children could tell the difference between these two cats and also understood the difference in behavior between them. This is essential to help them explain to their families, who mostly rely on farming, how to tell the difference and also how to adjust their farming methods to help reduce or even stop stock losses.

We then played 2 different games designed to practically show the difference between leopard and cheetah behavior and also emphasize the amazing running ability of the fastest land mammal in the world. It was very hot so once again a swim . . . . in "wonderful water"

wahu wahu wahu

 wahuThe afternoon was used to show the children both leopard and cheetah from the safety of a hide. Once again it was the first time these children has ever seen a leopard or cheetah. We then visited The AfriCat Foundation main office. This is done to show the children the work of the Foundation through posters and displays on the wall and to enable them to touch cheetah and leopard pelts and handle skulls on display. This further helped them to understand the difference between these two cats. At the AfriCat Clinic we looked at radio collars and other types of equipment used by the Foundation.

africat info centreafricat info centre

africat info centreafricat info centre

During the evening we challenged the children to have a debate about the pros and cons of having large carnivores on farmland. This enabled them to see the problem from both sides, not just from a conservation side but also from a farming side. We ended the evening with a night walk that included the observation of different stars and also a period of complete silence to take in the different sounds at night. Most of the children had not walked outside after nightfall.

DAY 3:
The last morning we started off again with a game drive in the reserve and were lucky enough to actually see 3 cheetahs hunting. This was something the scholars have never seen and the amazement on their faces to see a cheetah running at full speed was probably the most rewarding experience for me. After the drive we had an overview of everything they had learnt during the 3 days at AfriCat and also an opportunity for them to ask questions and share their thoughts on the experience they had with us.

tusk telegraph tusk telegraph1 tusk telegraph
tusk telegraph tusk telegraph tusk telegraph
tusk telegraph tusk telegraph tusk telegraph
tusk telegraph tusk telegraph

We then held a prize-giving and handed out information pamphlets on conservation in Namibia. Their stay came to an end with a swim in the campsite pool, a highlight for many of them.

 

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Overall the experience for the kids was mind blowing and they all expressed that in their 3 day stay they learned more, because it was not just 'sitting and listening', but a lot of practical and fun things to do, that made the difference.
We have identified 4 children that showed the most interest and exceeded in many of the activities and discussions. They will be invited again next year to join a longer camp in the school holidays. Here we will put them together with students from other schools that we have identified. The idea is to create environmental awareness outside their normal school activities and to teach them to communicate better with people they might not know, but who share the same passion for conservation.

We will also try to promote the formation of environmental clubs on a community basis, rather than linked to individual schools only. We believe that together they can make a bigger difference.

One thing that should be mentioned is the importance of outreach. AfriCat does not just concentrate on schools close to us, but also in more remote areas where the opportunities for children are less.
IT IS MORE EFFECTIVE TO HAVE 2 ENTHUSIASTIC, CONSERVATION AWARE YOUTHS IN 10 COMMUNITIES, THAN 20 IN ONE COMMUNITY.

"In the end we will only conserve what we love
We will only love what we understand
And we will only understand what we are taught."

Compiled by: AJ Rousseau & Helen Newmarch
AfriCat Environmental Educators
CONSERVATION THROUGH EDUCATION

2013: The TUSK TRUST will be sponsoring the teacher’s salary of AfriCat’s Environmental Education programme.  Tusk Projects » Countries » Namibia » AfriCat Foundation

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 November 2012 07:33

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Rex, Ruby, Raine and Ricky

rex with amputated legrex's x-ray

Although Okonjima is best known for its work with cheetah and leopard, an unexpected request for help in 2005 saw the AfriCat Foundation offer protection to a group of orphaned Wild Dogs.

The puppies were found buried in an abandoned warthog hole on a farm where their mother and the rest of their family were killed by the local farmers, due to them preying on local livestock. Originally, seven pups were handed over to AfriCat (by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism), but due to illness, two didn’t survive. The remaining five were successfully hand-reared by painstakingly feeding them every two hours according to their weight.

At 4 months old, the other 5 pups were released into a secure enclosure to prevent direct contact with people. The 2 males were Vasectomized at 2 years of age, so that there was no chance for them to breed as they were siblings after all, and it is illegal in Namibia to breed with captive large carnivores. A double fence was erected around their enclosure as wild dogs are susceptible to other canine diseases such as Rabies, Distemper and the Parvo-virus, carried by other members of the dog family such as jackals and bat-eared foxes.

Rufus, nick-named ‘Mouse’, died in September 2009. The post mortem established congenital kidney failure and he had developed gastritis. That left Rex, nick-named ‘Spot’, as the only male in the group of siblings.

The group was then moved to a new 5ha area called ‘Alcatraz’, far from daily human activity so that they would start adapting to a larger, more remote area and also hopefully start forgetting that man is something you walk up to when in need of a meal!

In the wild, the Wild Dog is one of the most effective pack-hunters in Africa, but this is a learned behaviour which is alien to Okonjima's pack. Understandably, the AfriCat team was both nervous and curious about developments.

The wild dogs were darted in June 2010 for the radio-collar-fittings and a general health check, when vaccinations were administered before their release into the Okonjima Reserve; once they had recovered from the anaesthetic there was a major change in the dogs’ hierarchy - Raine was no longer ‘top dog’ and Ricki, formerly the underdog, had usurped Raine’s position. This came as a big surprise to us, but this behaviour has been observed in captive wild dog packs before. Spot, now the only male, immediately stood by Ricki and didn’t leave her side.

The four dogs were released on 9. 11. 2010 and this happy day was experienced by all of the guests present on Okonjima and the UK, TV channel, ITV. By that afternoon, they had already chased a family of warthogs, who disappeared into an aardvark hole. The next morning they were observed taking down their first kill, a kudu cow!

Clearly, their hunting instinct was still intact after so many years in captivity!

 

REX’S STROKE OF BAD LUCK:


wilddog snareEarly October 2011: We were devastated when one of our Okonjima Guides discovered a snare around REX'S neck! More than 40% of animals caught in snares are ‘non-target’ captures, meaning they are not the animal wanted by the poacher!!! Animals caught in snares face slow, painful deaths and, in Africa, snares kill thousands of animals every year. The snare was safely removed and Rex was luckily unharmed!

Mid November 2011: - REX was seen favouring his back, left leg? The hip-bone had become prominent and he was often seen running on only 3 legs, but seemed to keep up.

End January 2012: The 16 000ha Okonjima, private Reserve, became 20 000ha! All 4 dogs were immediately seen marking their new territory and they were venturing into new areas every day.

Then on the 7th of February 2012: REX & Co were discovered at a baby giraffe kill - REX limping badly. A giraffe kick, most probably, with force - hitting the ‘humerus’ bone half-way between the left shoulder and the elbow. He was immediately darted and rushed to Otjiwarongo where a pin was placed into the humerus bone by Dr Axel Hartmann. The surgery took over 3 hours!

All 4 dogs moved back into Alcatraz (the 5ha, soft-release enclosure within the 20 000ha reserve) and REX was given a smaller, temporary home, separated from his 3 siblings, but within the 5ha enclosure for the next 6 weeks, whilst recovering from his injury.

wilddog amputation

16 February 2012: Back on the table – wound open! We suspected that he had been licking it so much that all the stitches had come out. We also discovered that REX had broken 3 of his 4 canines – trying to escape from the smaller enclosure.

Middle March 2012: A German film crew documented the veterinary examination where X-rays of REX’S leg were taken, while the Perivoli Okonjima Country School children looked on and learnt all about the plight of the Wild Dog. The outcome: Rex’s leg was not completely healed.

31 MAY 2012: REX was driven back into Otjiwarongo as it was time to see how the bone had healed; good news! The pin was finally taken out!

 

wilddog xrays with the Perilvoli school children watching13 June: Rex’s leg seemed infected again. Dr Gerhard Steenkamp and Dr Adrian Tordiffe discover that the bone had broken once again, at the same spot. After a long discussion and the pro’s and cons of bone-grafts and another lengthy period of isolation were discussed in detail. A decision was then made to amputate.

10 July 2012: 5 months later - REX, RUBY, RAINE & RICKY were finally released back in the wild, after the accident in early February.
What a beautiful morning when our OKONJIMA guests, the KUONI Campers and the PAWS volunteers - all came to witness their release.

 17 July 2012: REX and his 3 sisters caught their first kill since their release on 10 JULY - a baby Oryx. Is Rex holding the pack back?? We'll have to keep a closer eye . . . but when this news letter went to print – all 4 were doing well and although they are separated from each other at times – they seem to regroup by the end of the day.

 

For more information about the 4 AfriCat Wild Dogs see:

Facebook: The AfriCat Wild Dogs

Facebook: The Annual Africat Health and Dental Examinations

 

 

Last Updated on Sunday, 04 November 2012 14:36

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KEEPING CALVES IN KRAALS MAY NOT BE DETRIMENTAL TO WEIGHT GAIN

A 2011 survey of Namibian cattle farmers showed the majority kept their calves in the bush with their grazing mothers, although the majority also believed kraaled calves were safer from predation. Perhaps this is partly due to fear that the kraaled calves do not gain as much weight as calves in the bush due to less access to milk and grass, and are therefore, less valuable to the farmer. Another study may disprove this theory.

carrying calves to safetycow

Study
In December 2008 – January 2009, 121 calves were born on a Namibian farm in the Waterberg Conservancy. 68 were sent to a camp about 6 kilometers from the farm house and 53 stayed in the kraal located near the house. The bush calves were allowed access to grazing and their mother’s milk each day with limited human supervision. The kraaled calves did not graze, only given access to their mothers once a day and were frequently observed by humans. At four intervals (January, March, April, and May) both groups of calves were weighed to determine current weight and rate of weight gain. After the second weighing the kraal calves were given daily access to grass as is standard procedure at their age. After the third weighing, both groups were put together in the bush, accompanying their mothers.

 

Results
The kraal calves at the original weighing in January were slightly heavier (see Table),due to the fact that they were born about 2 weeks earlier. At the March weighing, the bush calves had doubled their average weight and surpassed the kraal calves by 9 kilograms on average, gaining 2 kilograms more than the kraal calves each week. By the third weighing in April, the two groups were close with the bush calves still having an almost 3 kilogram lead. The weight gain per week of the kraal calves had stayed the same despite their access to grass for the past month while the bush calves significantly decreased in weight gain per week. At the fourth weighing, all the calves had been grazing with their mothers since the last weighing and the weights were almost equal. The kraal calves gained a narrow lead by fractions of a kilogram and averaged more weight gain per week.

 

 DATE AVERAGE KRAAL CALF WEIGHT (KG) AVERAGE BUSH CALF WEIGHT (KG)
14/1/2009 63.9 54.5
18/3/2009 100.1 (+4 kg / wk) 109.3 (+6.1 kg / wk)
9/4/2009 115.7 (+3.9 kg / wk) 118.2 (+2.2 kg / wk)*
8/5/2009 137.1 (+5.4 kg / wk) 136.8 (+4.7 kg / wk)

The average weight of each group of calves is shown plus the gain per week. The bold font in the last row signifies that both groups had been in the bush since last weighing.
*NOTE: The drop in kg/wk gained in the April weighing of the bush calves may be due to the fact that they were kept in the kraal overnight before weighing without access to grass.

 

Conclusion The two groups of calves were so close in weight that it gives no credit to giving calves early access to grass and exposing them to increased danger of predation. The extra weight gained early on seems to be weight they would gain anyway when given access to grazing later.

Survey and Research by Shelly Rothman

 

calf carcass dragging caracass enticing lions calf carcass
AfriCat - Ministry of Environment & Tourism a joint effort at HWC Mitigation - Calf carcass tied to AfriCat's CCCP vehicle. AfriCat dragging carcass to Etosha National Park fence. Carcass dragged into ENP, enticing lions off neighbouring farm.
kraal building upgrading a community kraal kraal building lion tracks lion with animal carcass 500px
AfriCat upgrading a community kraal. Lion tracks. Loss of stock.
kraal building marienhoehe community kraal kraal building stronger kraals kraal building methos herdsmen reinstated
Marienhoehe Community Kraal Stronger kraals that are predator proof are vital. Herdsmen reinstated.

 

RESEARCH AND SURVEYS ON THE VIABILITY OF DONKEY INTEGRATION INTO CATTLE HERDS TO REDUCE PREDATION

Shelly Rothman

Introduction

Human/wildlife conflict is an ancient, worldwide issue. While learning about it for my BSc degree in conservation biology in 2007, I met a Namibian cattle farmer. What the university taught me about predators and what he taught me about living with the predators were on very different sides of the spectrum. In 2009, I had the opportunity to travel to Namibia to do research to find a middle ground; a way for the cattle farmer and the predators to live together. This year, I surveyed Namibian livestock farmers, as well as government and non-government wildlife organisations in order to gather information from the rest of the country.

The research

The 11,000 hectare farm on which the original research was conducted is located in the Waterberg Conservancy and was experiencing regular and severe calf predations to leopard and cheetah. The mission of the research was to find a method of non-lethal predator deterrence. Guard animals, specifically donkeys, were highly lauded as such a method for cattle herds.

At that time, I split the farm’s winter herd of calves in half for their first three months; one half remained in the kraal, receiving only their mothers’ milk once a day, the other went into the bush with their mothers allowing them regular access to milk and grass. The herd in the bush received a group of female donkeys with their offspring. Weight measurements of each calf herd were taken in January, March, April and May.

The expectation was that the herd in the bush would be more economically beneficial as they would put on more weight faster. The weight measurements showed this was true, however, upon releasing the kraaled calves into the bush after three months they quickly caught up in weight. The losses to the two groups were nearly equal concluding that donkeys were not economically viable as guard animals since they did not earn their food and water which could have instead been used for cattle.

READ MORE ABOUT:  MS ROTHMAN’S REPORT

Acknowledgements I would very much like to thank all of the farmers who took the time to share their views as well as The AfriCat Foundation, Cheetah Conservation Botswana, Cheetah Conservation Fund, Harnas Wildlife Foundation, and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. Also, a big thanks to Boas Mponjo, Kaiporo Kandjii, Annatjie du Preez, and Dr. Paul Zedler.

 

Last Updated on Sunday, 30 December 2012 04:36

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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.

 

 

Last Updated on Saturday, 08 September 2012 09:35

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