T+2692 hours: Goodbye, CCF, cheetahs & Namibia

I originally had planned to finish the outstanding posts as soon as possible, but school and other obstacles haven’t allowed me to do so until now. I’m fairly glad I finally was able to write the last two posts as well as this summary.

Our group of volunteers
Namibia was a completely new experience for me, and probably the best I’ve had so far. I finally had the possibility to be close to cheetahs, my favourite animals, talk to people with similar interests and become actively involved. The volunteer experience you get is so much more than just work – you get to know the stories of the people, cheetahs and the CCF, past and present. It’s not comparable to anything. You’d never be able to read or hear enough about it, you just have to experience it. I’m glad I got the chance to do just that, experience cheetahs and help saving them.

If you can, visit them! Whether as volunteers or day visitors, make sure you, too, get involved. Maybe you even want to help the CCF with its difficult task, I’m sure they’ll appreciate your help and I can assure you the money’s used for what they state to use it for.

I’m not sure about my future, but one thing’s certain – I’d like to return sooner or later (hopefully sooner) and help more. The cheetah experience has strengthened my decision to get more involved with conservation and biology, and I certainly will do everything I can in order to assist the wonderful and unique beings cheetahs are.

Thank you, CCF – Laurie, Bruce, Laura, Heike, Anne-Marie, Kate, Matt, Rob, Matti, Fabiano, Liz, you volunteer guys and all the others that helped and are helping the cheetahs survive. Keep it up.

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T+433 hours: Last day at the CCF…

…and nobody of us is happy about it.

Yesterday, apart from my usual work, I checked the camera traps together with Rob and Laura (I think… I’m bad at remembering names!) and in the evening we did our game count. Nothing exciting happened – all we saw was a bunch of rabbits, an oryx and the odd wild cat. I almost fell asleep, but not because it was boring, I was just so tired from the day’s work.

Today, Miriam, Hillard and my humble self had the task of cleaning the leopard, quarantine and center pens as well as doing the feeding. Kate and Matt decided it was time for two of the cheetahs (Armadillo and another one whose name I don’t recall right now) to get to know each other, and therefore removed a part of the screen separating two enclosures (of course, they didn’t remove the fence altogether).

Ooooh, and I got to meet the cubs! So cute! It’s unbelievable how small they really are, barely bigger than housecat kittens. They were very curious, noisy (constant purr) and so sweet. One of them licked my arm for a full minute (if not more) until it began to hurt. Hmm, yummy humans. Have some pictures!

Curious cheetah cub Another cheetah cub ...another one of the cubs!

The evening was not as joyous, though – we had a great barbecue with all kinds of meat (pork, oryx and beef, if I remember correctly). We said goodbye to everyone and also got a small bag with flyers, a certificate (I’m cheetah certified!) as well as a great personalized DVD with pictures and the ID records of most of the CCF’s cheetahs. It was quite sad, but all good things have to come to an end.

Tomorrow’s going to be hard – I’ll have to say goodbye to the cheetahs as well 🙁

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T+384 hours: Cheetah pickup!

Wednesday certainly was a busy day, but all in all, I didn’t do too much stuff worth noting. In the morning, I was busy doing the observations for my research project, and the rest of the day I spent analyzing and entering the data I gathered into an Excel worksheet. I also got a little more work done on the Waterhole Count, but I’m afraid I wasn’t a great help so far.

Some of the other volunteers already had the chance to pick up a female cheetah last Tuesday. Surprisingly, I was told I could leave with Daniel, Kate and Liz in order to fetch two cheetahs a farmer reported he had caught. I didn’t have to think about it twice, of course, and that’s why for this morning I don’t have any data for my report. A shame, isn’t it? 😉

The two spotted ones turned out to be cubs of around nine months of age, one male and a female. They had been fed properly and were nicely hydrated as well, but they had been caught a fair while ago. Reportedly, the farmer tried to relocate the two, but they kept coming back to his farm, probably because they had lost their mother. For lack of experience they decided to hunt sheep, and understandably the farmer didn’t tolerate this behaviour, so he caught them, but instead of shooting them he called the CCF and we went all the way from Otjiwarongo to Okahandja (about 200kms if I had to guess) and back. The gate to their enclosure was too small for our box so we had to remove the fence in order to get through, but it was well worth it.

Since they are so young they’ll have to become resident cheetahs because they wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild since they never learned how to hunt (except maybe sheep). I suggested to name the female cheetah Kisa (Suahili for “story”), but I’m not sure whether they already decided on names for the two. We did a workup on the two as well, and as I mentioned they turned out to be nicely hydrated and healthy.

I’m scheduled to do the camera checks together with Rob tomorrow, and there’ll be a night game count as well. I’m curious about the latter! 🙂

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T+336 hours: Even more purring – and work!

Monday has not been very busy, but I’ve been tired most of the day. I now get up at 6:30 in the morning, get ready and then climb the CCF’s water towers. From there, I have a great view over the area, but what interests me most is the Hogwarts pen with Ron, Harry and Hermione in it as well as the enclosures next to it (Little C’s and Chewbaaka’s).

I’m conducting research concerning the cheetah’s interactions as well as their movement patterns. While I’m not always able to see every cheetah, I try to find out what each and every cat is doing over a period of two hours. I alternate between location tracking and interaction recording every 30 minutes, hoping this gives me a general idea about how much they interact at specific times with specific individuals. Little C seems to be the most playful of all of them (he is the youngest one, though) and in the morning he will often run along the fence and the trio on the other side will follow. In the evenings, there’s usually nothing too interesting to see, most of the time all cats lazy around, cuddle and groom themselves or each other.

It is rather exhausting, though, because you don’t really get too much sleep, but have to stay perfectly awake for the time you’re watching the cats. I have already got a few nice movement patterns, though, and the time spent was definitely worth it. Laurie wants to find out what distances the cheetahs walk in the mornings, and since I will have a GPS map ready by tomorrow evening, I’m hoping that’ll be easy to find out.

Later that day we got to see two cubs. If I remember correctly, they are about four months old. N’dungu (clever) and Shinga (yellow) are quite cute, but rather hissy. They were shown to us by Kelly, the “cubby mommy”. Unfortunately, she left today. I never really got to say Goodbye to her, so if you read this – getting to know you was very nice, you obviously made a difference here. We all kind of missed you at dinner.

Today was a very special day- I got to meet Little C (again)! I just can’t get enough of this cute little guy! He was posing while we tried to take photos, but never seemed to look at the camera when we wanted him to. He gave my cheek a wet nosebump twice, though. He seemed to like me scratching his ears a lot, his rumbling purr definitely gave a hint.

I hope I’ll be able to meet him again, maybe they’ll let me if I ask nicely 🙂

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T+256 hours: Scratching and purring

Little C had a little exercise today. First thing today was a cheetah run with only one cheetah, but he did seem to be quite happy about us joining him in his enclosure.

He doesn’t get quite as much exercise as the other cats, but he sure is more trusting than them. The girls wouldn’t get closer to the humans than they have too, but Little C lay down in front of us once he had enough of running. He was panting heavily and obviously quite exhausted, but while doing so he tried to purr. The resulting sound was kind of cute. I’ve been told he’s rather lazy, but will get more exercise in the future, and he really liked the attention he got – he allowed us to scratch and pet him (this cheetah loves getting earscritches).

After the run Shane, Trina and my humble self walked around the enclosures in hope of finding cheetah scat. The male cheetahs around here are very interested in the females, but since there’s a fence around their pens, they have to mark their territories outside. The wild cheetah’s scat is used to find out what prey they eat by analyzing the hair inside it and also to determine the stress levels of cheetahs by measuring cortisol levels. Since many resident cheetahs have gastritis or other digestive problems that may be related to stress (vehicles and humans close by), the folks here at CCF are trying to find out what to do against it. We found one big pile of poop and got it into our collection bags.

Our little trio then went to a nice little nature trail and spread Bushblok mulch on it. All we had to do was disperse it from the piles that were waiting for us. However, that’s not quite as easy a job as it may seem to be. It is pretty exhausting, but we got about 200 metres worth of path done in less than two hours. I guess that was pretty fast.

The others are leaving for Etosha after lunch. This means I will be the only volunteer here for the rest of the day and tomorrow. I hope there’s not too much to do since I haven’t gotten around to doing my studies yet.

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