Feed Orphan Cheetahs in Namibia

 
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Oct 1, 2013

PHD Research - Study on Captive Cheetahs

Marking Food
Marking Food

For me, coming to CCF was not only about fulfilling a long time dream of working with cheetahs but about conducting research as well. I am a PhD candidate at the University of Maryland College Park (USA) and I work with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute to investigate how stress is related to disease in captive cheetah populations. AA amyloidosis is a disease that is highly prevalent among the captive cheetah population in North America, but appears to be virtually nonexistent in wild cheetahs and I believe that this is due to the stress that being held in captivity imposes; this is the focus of my dissertation research. CCF and the Smithsonian have had a long and strong history of collaboration, so I took this opportunity to compare the captive cheetahs in the US to captive and wild cheetahs in Namibia. In order to measure stress in a cheetah, the hormone cortisol is commonly used. Hormones can most easily be measured in the blood, but collecting blood samples from a cheetah is both invasive and stressful, so instead, I use fecal samples. The amount of cortisol in feces varies from day-to-day, so I collect many samples over a long period of time to calculate an average, or baseline, for each individual. Once we have this information we can begin to investigate if stress may be directly related to AA amyloidosis.

A large amount of my time at CCF has been working directly with the husbandry team to prepare meat, feed cheetahs, and collect fecal samples daily for my study. Cheetahs at CCF are housed in groups, which makes the process a bit more complicated, because when we find a fecal sample in an enclosure we do not know which cheetah it belongs to. So what is the solution? I add different non-digestible markers, such as uncooked lentils, corn, or rice to each individual’s food. These markers will pass through the cheetah’s digestive tract and into their feces. This way, when I collect a fecal sample, I can look to see which marker is inside and instantly know which cheetah the fecal sample came from. Using this method, I have been able to collect samples from 34 of the resident cheetahs at CCF whom will be included in my study.

In addition to this work, I have also spent a lot of time working in the Genetic Conservation Laboratory here at CCF because I am also interested to know if there are genetic differences between cheetahs that predispose them to getting AA amyloidosis, particularly when stressed.
I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to spend the last two months here at CCF and feel incredibly sad that my time here has just about come to an end. I’ve been so fortunate to get to know most of CCF’s resident cheetahs and CCF’s staff has been fantastic, unwavering in their efforts to help me with my research exceeding my original expectations. I look forward to the day I will return to CCF again, because it is not a question of if, it is a question of when.
Livingston
Livingston
Lab Work
Lab Work

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Jul 8, 2013

Keeping an Eye on Amani

Amani 1
Amani 1

Caring for resident cheetahs often requires more than just routine feeding.

About seven months ago, one of CCF’s resident non-releasable cheetahs, Amani, developed a corneal lesion on her right eye: a cloudy area with a white speck barely visible. Initially the condition did not seem to irritate her, and we really could not train a wild cheetah to take eye drops!  However, by late January 2013 the eye dramatically worsened, and the lesion progressed into a corneal ulcer. The eye began to tear excessively, and her nictitating membrane (a translucent third eyelid cheetahs have for moisture and protection) was raised, causing her to squint constantly --an indication of eye pain.

Amani thus began a series of anaesthesias. The first was to perform surgery -- suturing the nictitating membrane to the inside of the upper eyelid, thus forming a protective layer of tissue over the damaged cornea.  The surgery, performed by CCF’s veterinarian, Amelia Zakiewicz, went without complications.

Amani was anaesthesised three more times over the next couple months to assess her progress, with the sutures redone each time to allow healing to continue. By the end of February, it was clear that the surgery had not worked. The ulcer was healing too slowly.  We did a new procedure, called a conjunctival flap surgery. This two-hour long surgery involved suturing the membrane lining inside of eyelids directly to the cornea. Another eyelid flap was performed to further protect the ulcer and sutures.

On 8 April Amani was again anaesthetised to assess the conjunctival flap surgery.  The ulcer had improved, but a prolapse had occurred -- the iris had migrated into the ulcer to plug the defect. We were not pleased with this prognosis but monitor how the condition and see how it developed. However, the situation continued to deteriorate and therefore, on 22 April, after further assessment, we decided to remove her right eye, thus reducing her discomfort.

After almost three months, Amani has adapted to seeing with one eye and is capable of focusing on fences, feeding bowls and even meat treats thrown in her general direction.  She is one of the best runners in her camp and is still chasing CCF’s feeding vehicle.  She does not miss a thing!  Amani is completely off all pain-related medications and now receives only a daily Omega-3 capsule. She recovered flawlessly from the surgery; however her eye has taken on the expected sunken appearance.  We all wish Amani well, and hope that the coming months will be less problematic for her.

Amani 2
Amani 2

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Apr 9, 2013

Rainbow and Aurora

Rainbow
Rainbow
On the 8th February 2013 CCF received a call from a farmer telling us they had a young cheetah cub that was extremely weak.  They had found her on the side of the road and she obviously had not eaten for a while as she was too weak to get up and run away. Luckily for the young cub, she was taken to the farm and given food and water before the farmer called CCF.
Naturally CCF rushed to the aid of the cub and arrived a few hours later. She was extremely thin so it did not take much to place her into a crate to transport her back to CCF. After thanking the farmer for calling and talking about how he can further help the wild cheetahs, the CCF staff were back on the road heading back to CCF where they could do a better check of the cub and give her more food.
Although weak, the young female was inquisitive and watched out the window as we drove.  About twenty minutes before reaching the CCF centre, three rainbows appeared overhead which looked beautiful and peaceful; it was decided she would be named Rainbow.
After arriving at the centre, Rainbow needed constant care and attention.  Naturally in the wild, cheetah cubs would not be on their own at such a young age of roughly 3-4 months; they would always be with their mother or at least siblings, so the CCF staff had to be with her constantly for the initial few days.
Each day she would be fed small portions, which could be up to 8 meals a day.  As she was starved it was crucial to not overfeed her, but at the same time ensure she got enough food, as well as vitamins and minerals she desperately needed. Over the first few weeks Rainbow quickly put on weight and her fur and skin condition improved.
Now that her general health was not in danger it was important that we now focused on her mental health as most young cubs coming in from such a traumatic start normally become very depressed.  The staff at CCF came up with a variety of play items that she could play with from balls to toys tied on the end of string.  This way CCF staff could move around and trigger her chase response.
Because cheetahs run at such top speeds while hunting, it is imperative that they learn how to chase and catch from a young age, which in the wild would be something they learned from watching their mother. It was not long before Rainbow started chasing the toys and seemingly enjoying it.   Playing did seem to tire her out quite quickly, but this was to be expected as she didn’t have as much energy as she should have for a cub at her age.
Sadly, there was one thing that CCF staff could not replace: contact between two cheetahs, which is why it was very mixed emotions when CCF received another call from a different farmer saying he had a young cheetah cub and asking would we come and get it.
This little female cub was caught by the farmer. He kept her for roughly two weeks before calling CCF. Dr Laurie Marker went to collect the cub, but sadly for the young cub, now named Aurora, she had been taken away from her mother and siblings and had to be brought back to CCF.
Aurora was a bit feistier than Rainbow when she arrived and was not in too bad of overall condition.  She was bloated from being fed too much and had her claws cut really short, but the main thing was that she seemed very frightened. After spending a night in our quarantine pen, Aurora was anesthetized and given a full health check to make sure she was healthy, remove any parasites, and give her relevant vaccinations without stressing her out. The next morning we decided it was time to introduce her to Rainbow, as the sooner the two cubs were together the better it would be for them.
The introduction could not have gone any better.  As soon as Rainbow heard Aurora chirp she went straight over to the fence line and chirped back.  At this time, Aurora almost came out of her crate, which she had not done since we received her two days earlier. Eventually both cats met up at the fence line dividing them and touched noses. We decided that we should open the gate and see how they did together, as the keeper moved towards the fence line, Aurora ran back to her crate, however this was not a problem for Rainbow as she strolled right in and sat down next to Aurora.  After a few minutes the staff witnessed Rainbow grooming Aurora and they have been together ever since.
Every day they are getting more confident and seem happy together.  They groom each other after every meal and are always curled up beside one another.  We are very sad that the two of them have had such a bad start, but at least now they can develop with one another.
Rainbow and Aurora
Rainbow and Aurora
Rainbow and Aurora 2
Rainbow and Aurora 2

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Jan 11, 2013

Temporary Residents - Gobabis to Otjiwarongo

Cheetahs in Trap
Cheetahs in Trap

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. 

Cheetah Exam
Cheetah Exam
Temporary Residents
Temporary Residents

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Oct 16, 2012

Resident Cheetah Needs Surgery

Mendel
Mendel

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!

Amelia Zakiewicz
CCF Veterinarian
An x-Ray showing the mass in Mendel
An x-Ray showing the mass in Mendel's stomach
Vet nurse Rosie preps Mendel for surgery
Vet nurse Rosie preps Mendel for surgery

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Organization

Project Leader

Shannon Sharp

Operations Director
Otjiwarongo, Namibia

Where is this project located?

Map of Feed Orphan Cheetahs in Namibia