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The 2014 Annual AfriCat Health Checks!

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Once a year a team of veterinarians, veterinary nurses, researchers, students and volunteers meet at the AfriCat Foundation to carry out the annual health examinations on all the semi-captive large cats. Some form of annual health check is required by law in Namibia for all captive and semi-captive felids, but at AfriCat we go way beyond what is required, both to ensure that the cats are maintained in excellent health and to maximize the research opportunities. The team was led by Dr Adrian Tordiffe from the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa and Dr Gerhard Steenkamp from the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Pretoria (UP).

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Dr. Adrian Tordiffe darting Bubbles.
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Dr. Adrian Tordiffe
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Dr. Adrian Tordiffe
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Dr. Gerhard Steenkamp
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Dr Gerhard Steenkamp left, with Dr. David Roberts.

This year a team of specialists, mostly from UP, joined the normal AfriCat team to surgically sterilize the female cheetahs and leopards that are considered unsuitable for release into the wild. The Namibian government passed legislation requiring the irreversible sterilization of all female captive large felids in a bid to prevent the captive breeding and illegal trade of these species. Dr Marthinus Hartman, one of the surgeons at UP, had developed a minimally-invasive laparoscopic technique to sterilize captive lions in South Africa. With the specialized equipment provided by the German company – Karl Storz, the cheetahs and leopards could have their ovaries removed or fallopian tubes tied off in the same way, through a single tiny surgical incision. This would mean less trauma and pain and a far lower risk of any post-operative complications. As with any new technique, all aspects of the procedure would have to be accurately documented so that the method could be published in an international veterinary journal.

Dr. Marthinus Hartman and Prof Eric Monnet:

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Dr Hartman was accompanied by his PhD supervisors – Prof Eric Monnet from Colorado State University and Profs Johan Schoeman and Robert Kirberger from UP as well as a reproductive specialist Prof Martin Schulman and anaesthesiologist Prof Frik Stegmann. A total of 11 cheetahs and 2 leopards were sterilized successfully using this laparoscopic technique. The AfriCat clinic was transformed into a high-tech surgical theatre. Visitors and staff were able to watch every detail of the surgery on television screens stationed outside the theatre.

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As with previous health checks, the cheetahs lions and leopards were examine from head to tail. They were treated against internal and external parasites, vaccinated against rabies and blood and urine samples were collected for diagnostic and research purposes. This year Karl Storz also provided us with a flexible endoscope, a camera with which to visualize the inside of the oesophagus and stomach. Cheetahs in captivity frequently suffer from gastritis, an inflammatory condition of the stomach lining, often associated with the bacteria Helicobacter. Small biopsies of the stomach lining were collected for examination under a microscope. The underlying cause of gastritis in captive cheetahs is unknown. It is our hope that this work at AfriCat will provide some answers to this mystery. Dr Gerhard Steenkamp checked each animal for dental abnormalities while the Steppes Discovery/Steppes Travel volunteers from the UK & the CW Safaris USA & Ultimate Safaris, Namibia volunteers - assisted the other veterinarians and carefully groomed the burrs out of the cat’s fur.

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Volunteers CW Safaris.
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Volunteers CW Safaris.
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Volunteers CW Safaris.
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Volunteers Steppes.
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Volunteers Steppes.
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Volunteers Steppes.

Volunteers attending one of the many lectures during their stay:

volunteers attending lectures

Other exciting projects that were initiated this year include the cheetah microbiome project. This is a collaborative effort between Dr Tordiffe, Dr Steekamp and Dr Holly Ganz from the University of California Davis. Dr Tordiffe’s metabolomics research has shown that gut bacteria play a potentially vital role in cheetah health. The aim of the cheetah microbiome project is to genetically characterise the gastrointestinal bacteria of the cheetah using high throughput next-generation genome sequencing. The type of bacteria and their relative abundance will be compared between captive and free-ranging cheetahs and between healthly cheetahs and those with gastritis. Once a "normal" bacterial profile has been established, we will also be able to see how this changes in response to dietary manipulation.

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Dr. Holly Ganz.
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Dr. Holly Ganz.
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Dr. Holly Ganz with Dr. Ashleigh Tordiffe.
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Dr. Holly Ganz.

Cheetahs are the most amazing athletes and able to run faster than any other land mammal over short distances. They however tire quickly and need to rest for a while before being able to hunt again. Little is known about their muscle physiology and muscle fibre micro-anatomy. Dr Tordiffe’s research seems to indicate that cheetahs reach their peak athletic ability as early as 6 to 8 years of age. He is interested in evaluating their muscle physiology relative to their age. In order to do this, a small piece of thigh muscle was collected from each cheetah while they were anaesthetised. Some of this muscle will be evaluated by Dr Tertius Kohn, a researcher at the Sports Science Institute at the University of Cape Town. Dr Kohn is able to test individual muscle fibre strength, determine the abundance of different muscle fibre types and evaluate the efficiency of glucose metabolism in the muscle fibre cells. The remaining muscle from each cheetah will be sent to Denmark where Prof Niels Ørtenblad will evaluate the muscle mitochondria (which are responsible for energy production in the cells) using electron microscopy.

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Dr. Emma Sant Cassia.
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Dr. Emma Sant Cassia.
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Dr. Emma Sant Cassia, Prof. Frik Stegman and Dr. Martin Schulman.
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Dr. Emma Sant Cassia, Prof. Frik Stegman and Dr. Martin Schulman.

Dr Emma Sant Cassia, an MSc student at the Royal Veterinary College in London also conducted a study on the potential use of a non-invasive high definition oscillometric blood pressure monitor in cheetahs. Cheetahs develop very high blood pressures (hypertension) during anaesthesia, mainly due as a side effect of the drug combinations that are commonly used, but we also suspect that some individuals also suffer from chronic hypertension even when they are not anaesthetised. The blood pressure machine that Emma is testing in her study has a pressure cuff that is placed around the base of the cheetah’s tail. The cuff causes no real discomfort to the cheetahs and if it proves to be accurate enough, then we hope to use the machine on cheetahs that have been trained to have their blood pressures measured regularly.

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As usual, Dr Gerhard Steenkamp once again evaluated the dental and oral health of all the animals. Dental procedures were performed on some individuals, including MJ, a 14 year-old wild leopard from the Okonjima Reserve. MJ has successfully raised several cubs over the years, but managed to break two of her canines, exposing the root canals to bacterial infection. The root canal treatment she received will prevent any further infections and pain and she will hopefully continue to thrive for a number of years.


The annual health checks, sterilizations and dental procedures took 8 full days to complete.

In the end over 50 animals were examined and treated. More than 2000 diagnostic and research samples were collected.


Sarah Cullen, Dr Ashleigh Tordiffe, Prof Sonja Boyes, Dr Bettina Wachter, Dr Gavin Hudson-Lamb.
Our thanks goes to all those who worked tirelessly to make this year’s activities a great success. The volunteers who helped fund the health checks proved to be more than just a pair of helping hands. Their great sense of humour and dedication were greatly appreciated. Sarah Cullen joined us for the 4th year in a row and as always provided excellent veterinary nursing skills. We also would like to thank Dr Ashleigh Tordiffe for tirelessly processing and labelling a huge number of blood, urine and muscle samples. Prof Sonja Boyes assisted her husband, Dr Steenkamp, with the dental procedures and evaluated some of the diagnostic samples from one of the cheetahs. Dr Bettina Wachter from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research once again processed a number of samples for the cheetah immunology study. Dr Gavin Hudson-Lamb assisted with the darting of the cheetahs and provided some much needed veterinary support. We would also like to thank Sr Jana Stander, Christel Grobler, Anneke Schoeman, Karin Barnard, Anna Mowa and Victor Monnet for their help in the lab or in the theatre. We look forward to seeing some of you again next year!

Written by: Dr Adrian Tordiffe



Sue Olsen spent time on Okonjima as a guest, but heard about the cheetah rescue mission of the 'Saltpans', Swakop and Mundi and wanted to help, unconditionally . . . . Not only did she sponsor their medical costs, transport from Swakopmund, meat & the trial-bonding- period when they were placed into the same area with Dizzy & Spirit, but she also trusted our decision to abort that project for reasons that were not clear at the time, but after Dizzy gave birth to 4 cubs soon after release, it made sense that she was not interested in taking care of any orphans.

Sue has funded their food and medical bills every since and has allowed her funding to be used wherever we feel it is necessary – like using it for the fuel that was needed to rescue Penta, after she escaped from the safety of the Okonjima Nature Reserve. See: 'So what happened to Dizzy'

The Saltpans - Swakop and Mundi:

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Then you get the dedication and commitment of Sarah Cullen . . . . a guest that came to visit Africa many years ago. Sarah first came to Okonjima in 2011. She enjoyed her stay, but wanted to do more. She has volunteered during the annual vet-check for 3 years running now and because she’s a trained veterinary nurse, Ms Cullen has become Dr Steenkamp’s favourite assistant, knowing exactly what he needs and when he needs it.  See: Annual Health Check 2013

Not only does Sarah save-up and sponsor her own flight all the way out from Australia (New South Wales), year after year – she has also been responsible for sponsoring many of the important medical apparatus used inside the AfriCat clinic during any veterinarian procedure.

This year Sarah surprised us yet again by sponsoring another clinic item – the theatre light – that was used extensively during the intricate laparoscopic procedures.

A personal word from Sarah: 

"In 2011 my mother left me some money after she died. Family & friends suggested I should buy some jewellery or something nice in memory of her. I don’t wear jewellery, knowing me I would knock the diamond out of a ring.

My mother also had a passion for animals, so when I first visited AfriCat, I fell in love with Namibia. I knew what I was going to do with the money. I donated money to help set up the new clinic with an anaesthetic monitor, instruments and other equipment. My mother was a nurse and I am a vet nurse, so it seemed very appropriate.

AfriCat organised some plaques to put on the monitors in memory of mum. So her memory lives on at AfriCat. I have been here three years in a row to help with the health checks and it is such an honour to watch all the equipment being used by the vets and researchers. It is also an honour knowing how much I am helping AfriCat in their research, so we can all learn more about Cheetahs, Leopards and Lions.

Leaving a legacy is such a wonderful thing to do. Not only are you helping that organisation, but your loved one will always be remembered and you will always be reminded of them in such a wonderful way.

I am very proud of what has been achieved with mum’s donation and I am one very proud and happy AfriCat supporter. They are on top of my list for my legacy when it is time.

People travel to AfriCat from all over the world. So when they come to visit they see who has donated what & how that particular person's legacy has helped AfriCat. So it reaches every part of the globe. You get such positive feedback from all sorts of people & you know exactly where your money goes, from helping feed the cheetahs & leopards in the carnivore care centre, improving their large enclosures, setting up new facilities. As I said before it is such a pleasure seeing first hand my equipment being used by the wonderful vets at AFRICAT.

People are always promising to help organisations like AfriCat but they don't follow through. It is fine to like photos & stories on Facebook & other social media but it doesn't really achieve anything. It is so rewarding knowing how much I am helping these beautiful animals through my mother's memory, knowing that Mum lives on through AfriCat & the cats & she is remembered around the world.

In this harsh world of ours I recommend doing something lovely like leaving a legacy of some sort, it doesn't matter how big or small. It makes you feel so good especially after the pain of losing a loved one."
Sarah Cullen
 Proud AfriCat Supporter!

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Then you get Simon Palmer – who flies out to cover the Annual Health-check at his own expense – leaves his wife and 22 month old son behind to assist us with his photographic expertise, knowing that by helping AfriCat he is not only supporting a foundation close to his heart, but that he is also assisting the research that AfriCat is involved in, by making sure his footage is used at a university that is training vets and new scientist that will make a difference, once qualified! (from Dr Hartmann – surgeon and scientist who joined the vet-check this year: "A huge Thank You to Simon Palmer for taking photos and videos and for providing some entertainment all along. Thank you Simon for your friendship, good humour and also for being so generous with your footage and material. It is much appreciated.")

A personal word from Simon: 
"As a nature photographer I think its critical that we (as photographers) don’t just 'take' all the time. It’s a privilege to be able to spend my time working as a photographer and cameraman, and as such, feel it is only right to give something back. Whether that is simply supporting an initiative, help raise awareness, or more extensively supporting established wildlife conservation by donating time and money. AfriCat and Namibia are close to my heart for many reasons. Namibia is a vastly unspoilt country for tourism, with a huge wealth of nature. Even though this is the case, there are still local issues that mirror those around the world. This is why I support AfriCat. They have chosen to educate, and invest in the future population who will one day take over the farms and properties that come into regular human-predator conflict. 

AfriCat’s innovative approach to using SMS in the north of the country to alert farmers to roaming lions, so that they can then move their livestock into protective enclosure (which has been built by AfriCat) works very well. Couple that with investment in research and education that the main AfriCat centred in Okonjima caries out, means they desperately need support to ensure predators such as the Cheetah are still around long into the future. Money is always needed!

I’ve paid my own way to AfriCat so I can support them. Covering their annual health checks, which play a critical role for many scientists in furthering our knowledge of the predators in Namibia. These images are used to inform and educate the tourist who visit Okonjima, so hopefully they become more aware of the fine line these animals tread between thriving or just surviving on the edge of extinction through conflict with man. 

Every Namibian dollar they can put into the research and education brings us a little further forward in saving these animals that are critical to the wild food chain."
Thanks. Simon

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Soren Knudsen

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 "A while back, in 1999, I was working as a sales manager for a PET Accessories company here in Denmark. One day I visited one of my good clients, a vet-clinic in the Copenhagen area. While waiting for the owner, I noticed a leaflet lying on the counter that said: 'make sure this is not the last time you see him' . . .  and on that cover, was a Cheetah, and it was sponsored by BAYER.

I grabbed the last leaflet and read all about The AfriCat Foundation in Namibia. I took the leaflet home and began to think about how I could help? After a while I adopted one cat, then another and over the years I have adopted quite a few of the cheetahs at AfriCat’s Care Centre. See: Adopt a Carnivore.

Then I wrote to AfriCat and asked if I could visit to see what they did? So after a couple of years of saving, I finally went to Africa – my first journey to that continent - just like another pioneer!

After arriving in Windhoek – I then caught the next plane, a small chartered, single engine, and landed on the airstrip of the private Okonjima Nature Reserve . . . on both sides of the gravel run-way, there they were . . . . rescued cheetahs following the plane – its an amazing sight to see those cats for the first time!

Then we met the team and all were very helpful, both the lodge crew and the AfriCat team.

I realized that this was a great cause and I carried on supporting AfriCat ever since the day I decided to adopt my first cat!

Today, I have visited AfriCat more than 12 times. I have also attended an annual vet-check of the animals, which is also an amazing experience with nice teamwork and a great team of vets.

I believe the owners have a good vision for what has to be done and their dedication is far beyond what I have seen in other organisations. I have supported this project by donating different medical and clinic equipment and together with my local vet, Dr Torben Mikkelsen, who is also a big-cat-lover, we have given AfriCat whatever we can get our hands on - from small items like catheters, to a state of the art, operating table.

I think that if you have never been there, go. You have only one life and so does the big cat. Go and see them with your own eyes and adopt as many as you can, supporting this foundation that in return supports research, education, carnivore conservation and local communities! See: AfriCat Projects"
I will always be an AfriCat Supporter Soren Knudsen


Dr Silvio Suardi - supporting conservation.
"Since I heard about and then visited Okonjima the first time in 2009, I felt such passion for their work as a conservationists, and I wanted to be part of their team and make a contribution towards their work in some way? When I heard of their need for an Xray machine, I knew this will be the opportunity for me to support Okonjima. See: Dental Check Process  

I thoroughly enjoy visiting this private, Nature Reserve on a regular basis, catching up with the team and keeping a close eye on the AfriCat projects and goals.

'‘Conservation' as well as 'Education' are very important to me personally and i have a strong opinion in this regard, and firmly believe that through education we will pursue our goal to conserve Namibia's wildlife and especially the carnivores.  

I am a keen mountain biker and through my sport try to raise awareness for conservation of our wildlife, and will continue to do so. Currently I am also involved in fundraising activities and spreading awareness for wildlife for SRT (Save the Rhino Trust) through my sport.  

I wish all conservationists in Namibia,  success for their projects and especially the AfriCat Team.
Keep up the excellent job!"
Silvio Suardi Dental Surgeon

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The AfriCat Foundation would like to thank the following people:

Dr. Adrian Tordiffe - Darting, anaesthesia and sample collection.
Dr. Ashleigh Tordiffe - Clipping and surgical preparation. Focus on processing samples.
Dr. Gerhard Steenkamp - Dental procedures and general health checks.
Dr. Sonja Boy - Assisting Dr. Steenkamp with all dental procedures.

Dr Marthinus Hartman (heads the specialist team and performs the surgery)
Prof Frik Stegman (monitored the anaesthetised cheetahs throughout the surgery and managed the ventilators)
Prof Johan Schoeman (Dr Hartman’s supervisor)
Prof Eric Monet (American specialist surgeon, the 2nd surgeon)
Dr Gareth Zeiler (Specialist anaesthetist. Manages the anaesthesia of the cheetahs during the surgery together with Prof Stegman)
Sr Jana Stander (assist Dr Hartman and Prof Monet)
Dr Martin Schulman (vaginal swab evaluations and performed the abdominal ultrasound examinations prior to the surgery)
Dr Robert Kirberger (diagnostic imaging specialist, abdominal ultrasound evaluations prior to the surgery)
+ 3 technicians from Karl Storz

Soren Knudsen & Dr Torben Mikkelsen - AFRICAT SPONSOR
Okonjima Lodge - SPONSOR
Team Okonjima which included the chefs, front-of-house-staff, managers & guides for their professional assistance and sponsored accommodation.
The STEPPES DISCOVERY & ULTIMATE SAFARIS | CW SAFARIS VOLUNTEER GROUPS for sponsoring the 2014 AfriCat Annual Health-Check


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Dr. Martin Schulman.
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Laparoscopic procedures.
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Laparoscopic procedures.
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Laparoscopic procedures.
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Laparoscopic procedures - Cauterization
laparoscopic procedures
Laparoscopic procedures -  Cauterization

Cauterize: The medical practice or technique of cauterization is the burning of part of a body to remove or close off a part of it in a process called cautery, which destroys some tissue, in an attempt to mitigate damage, remove an undesired growth, or minimize other potential medical harmful possibilities such as infections. ‎

its all over end of health check
2014 Health Check comes to an end.
its all over end of health check
Its all over  . . . and the cats are released back into
their large enclosures with a clean bill of health.
its all over end of health check
Its all over  . . . and the cats are released back into
their large enclosures with a clean bill of health.
its all over end of health check
Its all over  . . . and the cats are released back into
their large enclosures with a clean bill of health.
its all over end of health check
Its all over  . . . and the cats are released back into
their large enclosures with a clean bill of health.
its all over mafana
Its all over  . . .  Mafana released.

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