On 7 November 2012, Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) staff was called to pick up five cheetahs that were caught inside traps set out by a farmer in the Gobabis region of Namibia (~ 6 hour drive from CCF headquarters). Before the CCF team arrived, they were informed that one of the cheetahs, a young female, died under unknown circumstances. The farmer led the team through a maze of gravel and dirt roads, and finally arrived to the site of the captured cheetahs. A chicken coop, a water trough, a metal trap-cage and a group of four highly stressed female cheetahs were what we found. After assessing the situation, we decided to capture the cheetahs into wooden boxes in order to transport them back to CCF.
Considering the heat of the day and the stress level of the cheetahs, the team worked as quickly as possible, eventually moving all 4 cats, one at a time, into the trap cage and then to the the transfer crate. The long journey home was not the end of the day. Around 21:00, CCF staff were still working up two of the females. One was an older female (3-5 years old) and the other was an older cub (~18 months). The two cats appeared to be in decent health. The following day, the other two females were worked up. One was a cub, which was in good health, the other was an adult female, whose condition was not as fortunate. This female had old injuries on and in between her paws and pads. Due to the degenerative state of her paws, Otjiwarongo veterinarian, Axel, assisted in the amputation of one of her toes, which had been severely broken. After the procedure, the cheetah recovered normally in a safe, cemented quarantine pen, to prevent her from moving too much and possibly worsening the wounds on her feet.
The amputee female, who was given the name “Toeless,” was scheduled on 15 November to go to the dentist to have two root canals performed on her canines as well as an incisor removal She was taken to Otjiwarongo, and the procedures were carried out by human dentist and loyal friend, Dr. Profitt. Under anaesthetic the condition of her paws was assessed, and although they were getting much better, she still needed more time to heal. Three weeks later, “Toeless” was anaesthetised again, but this time Dr. Profitt came to CCF to perform another root canal. Also during this time her pads were checked again and they were looking much better! She was fitted with a satellite collar and the bonding process between her and her previous chicken coop mates began. The four females were all in one pen the following day, and all went well. “Toeless” seemed anxious to have a large pen that she could move around in, so she ran up and down the fence line, while the “Mom” and two cubs hid in the grasses and watched. There was very little interaction between the females as a whole.
The next day, on 8 December 2012, CCF staff captured “Mom,” the other adult female, who may or may not be the mother of the two older, near independent cubs. She was anesthetised and also placed with a GPS/VHF combination collar. After a speedy recovery all four females were once again reunited. We kept the foursome together for another week and tried to bond them by having them share several warthog carcasses. The two adult females showed promising wild behaviours as they quickly opened up the carcass, which can be a very difficult feat for the inexperienced. The two cubs were more hesitant and usually waited to feed after the carcass was already opened. Finally, on 15 December, the four females were once again captured in transport crates and taken on a 45 minute drive to CCF’s soft-release camp, Bellebenno. This 4,000ha (nearly 10,000 acre) game camp is filled with premium game for these cats to feed on. Oryx, eland, kudu, red hartebeest, steenbok, duiker and warthog are all on the menu, and this time of the year is calving season. We decided on this location as it would give the females the best chance at survival, especially if they all split up. A warthog carcass was placed in the centre of the four crates that temporarily held the cheetahs. The release was in place. The crate doors were lifted and out ran the four females, in four separate directions, without even a glance at the free warthog. The CCF team quickly departed as to not interfere anymore with their behaviour.
In the following days, the two adult females’ satellite collars fed CCF staff information on their whereabouts. They remained separate from one another and “Mom” went onto our neighbours property after the first day of release. The second day, “Toeless” also left Bellebenno, but returned on day threee. The two cubs' locations are unknown as they were not fitted with satellite collars. Hopefully, several of CCF’s camera traps and ground tracking team will be able to observe the cats in the future, to assess their condition. All releases are complicated and must be carefully thought out, since each cheetah is different. As these four females were all wild prior to being captured, and are deemed to be healthy, our expectations on their ability to survive are high. With this, we are happy to know that four more cheetahs are back where they belong –in the wild. The survival of the species depends on it.
Your donations help us do so much to preserve the health of our resident cheetahs! GlobalGiving is having a bonus day on October 17th. Please consider giving a gift to The Cheetah Conservation Fund Through GlobalGiving.
Last week Mendel, one of our male cheetahs, had a big operation. He had a foreign body removed from his stomach. The foreign body was first felt in his stomach at his annual exam, and again when he was anesthetized to have his VHF collar removed. We took an x-ray and could see bone and food material in his stomach. We were very concerned about how long the material had been in his stomach and worried that it might cause the stomach to rupture, which would make him very ill. Surgery was the only way that we could remove the foreign material.
Axel, the vet, and I performed the surgery at the local vet in Otjiwarongo. The anesthesia was monitored by Rosie, our vet nurse, and Juliette, our head cheetah keeper, who assisted throughout. The surgery went well with no complications. When we removed the mass of bone and foreign material from the stomach we noticed that part of the stomach (the pylorus) was thickened, which meant that there was only a very small opening for food to enter the intestines. It was this reduction in size that was causing food and bone to get stuck in the stomach. We performed a procedure called a pylorotomy, which widens the pylorus to allow food to pass through properly.
Post surgery Mendel has done very well. He had to spend the first few days eating only lean mince (ground beef) and now is eating cut up meat. He is in a smaller camp with one of his brothers Darwin to keep him company. He is looking forward to being able to eat meat off a bone like he normally does and to getting back to his normal big 5-hectare camp with his other brothers!
Although the Cheetah Conservation Fund is currently home to 45 captive cheetahs, our organisation’s mainfocus is not keeping cheetahs in captivity. That said,when a cheetah is orphaned at a very young age, thereare no other alternatives except captivity. These cheetahs would be unable to care for themselves and learn the skills a wild cheetah needs to survive. However,CCF has shown that some of the orphan cheetahs which have had enough experience living in the wild with their mom do have a chance to return to the wild. CCF’s re-wilding programme was designed to maximise this chance and we have successfully reintroduced a number of cheetahs via this programme. At the end of June, the cheetahs we call the ‘Leopard Pen Boys’ (Omdillo, Anakin, Chester, and Obi Wan) were released into the 70,000 hectare Erindi Private Game Reserve, beginning their life anew in the wild as part of CCF’s re-wilding programme. Earlier in the spring, these four males were released in CCF’s 4,000-ha training camp and closely monitored to see if they were demonstrating adequate hunting skills and instincts to warrant release into the wild. The Leopard Pen Boys performed well in the training camp, and it was agreed they should be released when an appropriate opportunity was found.
Fortunately, Erindi Private Game Reserve agreed to provide Omdillo, Anakin, Chester and Obi Wan a new home. Erindi is already home to two of CCF’s re-wilded female cheetahs: Chanel and Hershey, released there in early January 2011. On Wednesday 27 June, the four cheetahs were darted and fitted with VHF radio collars, which will be used to track and monitor the cheetahs to ensure their continued success. The following day the cats were crated and loaded onto a truck at CCF and taken south to Erindi. After a long drive on a dusty dirt road, they arrived at the release site; an open area with large trees, a giant termite mound and a watering hole nearby. During the 14 days of the post-release monitoring, CCF’s research assistants, Ryan Sucaet and Soujanya Shrivastav, recorded the cheetahs’ positions throughout the Erindi Private Game Reserve, as they explored and marked their new territory. The re-wilding of the ‘Leopard Pen Boys’ has been successful so far. They have avoided resident male cheetahs and other predators. The next milestone in the wild would be to find females to mate with, completing the success of this re-wilding by fostering a new generation of cheetahs in the Erindi Private Game Reserve.
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On May 23rd, two of our older captive cheetahs went to Otjiwarongo to see a human dentist, Dr. Dennis Profitt. We are very fortunate to have the generous and gracious Dr. Profitt available to perform dental work on all our cheetahs with dental issues in order to help keep their teeth as healthy as possible.
The two most recent treatments were two extractions and a root canal for Rosy, and two extractions for Misty. Most often when a tooth is broken or damaged, he will try to preserve the tooth by performing a root canal. However, when advanced periodontal disease develops, which can be age-related or due to impaction of bone or foreign material between the gums and the teeth, the teeth will sometimes need to be extracted due to secondary infection and periodontal bone loss.
Fortunately there are plenty of teeth in the mouth, and despite having a few extractions these two cheetah females will go on being able to eat with no long-term problems. In fact, removing and treating the infected teeth will reduce oral pain and inflammation and make them much more comfortable in the long run. And they will still have pretty smiles! Thank you Dr. Profitt for your on-going generosity and care of CCF’s cheetahs.
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