Feed Orphan Cheetahs in Namibia

by Cheetah Conservation Fund
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Feed Orphan Cheetahs in Namibia
Feed Orphan Cheetahs in Namibia
Feed Orphan Cheetahs in Namibia
Feed Orphan Cheetahs in Namibia
Feed Orphan Cheetahs in Namibia
Feed Orphan Cheetahs in Namibia
Feed Orphan Cheetahs in Namibia
Feed Orphan Cheetahs in Namibia
Feed Orphan Cheetahs in Namibia
Feed Orphan Cheetahs in Namibia
Feed Orphan Cheetahs in Namibia
Dr. Marker leading the workup on Daenarys
Dr. Marker leading the workup on Daenarys

Since February, CCF vets have been busy with an interesting and challenging case. As many have seen via social media updates, our cheetah Daenerys went through quite a lot in her past months, but she is now in her path to recovery.

Daenerys came to CCF as a cub in 2016 and was successfully rehabilitated and released into Erindi Private Game Reserve. Natural Habitat Adventures helped fund the GPS collars used to monitor her post-release movements. During the pandemic lockdown, CCF’s staff noticed an issue with her movements via GPS. Erindi’s staff went to investigate, and a guide spotted her limping. She had broken her fibula and dislocated her tibia-tarsus articulation, with all her ankle ligaments getting ruptured. This was a potentially life threatening injury that meant Daenerys needed to be recaptured. She could not remain out in the wild and successfully survive independently.

Once we got her back to CCF’s Centre we discovered that she was also pregnant! This made the decision to pull her from Erindi even more critical; it was not just Daenerys’ life on the line but a new generation of cheetahs.

After three long surgeries, Daenerys was finally set on the way to recovery. We placed an external fixator, which is a series of metal pins attached to the bone through incisions into the skin. She had the surgical wound cleaned weekly at the time, and she will keep the fixator until the end of 2021. Once her joint heals completely, the pins can be removed.

As she recovered, we initially restricted her movement, but now she is in a larger enclosure where she can walk and get a bit of exercise. She is doing fine and putting weight on her leg when walking. CCF’s vet team and Cheetah Keepers work on her monthly to x-ray and evaluate her healing. In addition, we need to monitor her joints and see how her muscles are rebuilding.

Khaleesi (her cub seen below) was born during the recovery period, and due to the nature of Daenerys’s injuries, CCF staff stepped in, and now Khaleesi is being hand raised.

 

Daenarys in her workup
Daenarys in her workup
Taking an x-ray of Daenarys' leg
Taking an x-ray of Daenarys' leg
Khaleesi
Khaleesi
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Duma getting an X-Ray
Duma getting an X-Ray

As a vet I often get asked who my favourite patient is, or which one of my cases have been most fulfilling or enjoyable. Predictably I find it a hard question to answer, I have been lucky in my career so far to have worked with some amazing animals, from dogs to elephants to rhinos, and of course cheetah. So having to choose just one is tough, but one patient and one case in particular that I can say for certain is up there amongst my favourites is Duma.

Duma is an adult male cheetah that was rescued from the horrible world of the illegal wildlife/pet trade that plagues the world. It has reduced our beautiful wildlife to mere objects of human entertainment and symbols of ‘power’. It has caused a lot of pain and suffering for many species of wildlife across the world, including the iconic Cheetah.

Known as the fastest land animal on the planet, with their iconic spotted pattern they are amongst the most famous and recognisable species on the planet, people from all over the world will travel to Africa just to catch a glimpse of them in the wild. But many of them are victims of the illegal pet trade, parents killed, cubs stolen and smuggled across the continent and the globe to become someone’s pet. Most of them won’t even survive the journey, and the ones that do suffer a number of serious health issues, malnutrition, parasitic infestations, deadly viral diseases to name a few.

One common issue is malnutrition, being taken away from their mother’s so young they miss out on the vital milk that their mother’s provide that prepares them for life, and they won’t get fed properly, or sometimes even at all and this will lead to many nutritional deficiencies and even starvation. In particular calcium is something they often lack, and this can lead to poor bone development leading to weak bones as they grow, Duma was one of these unfortunate animals.

So one night whilst in his enclosure he fell after being spooked and fractured his pelvis (as far as we know), for a cheetah this can be a fatal injury, the pelvis is such an important part of the body and once that is broken, walking, running, sitting, lying down, even going to the toilet can be a huge issue, and for a wild animal this would usually mean death if another predator finds you in that condition or it seriously hinders your ability to hunt. Since Duma has been with us since he was a young cub he is used to humans and used to being in close contact with us (the keepers and the vets) so he is not completely wild, which for his treatment and recovery was a good thing as we were able to provide the best possible care for him.

So for the first 3 months he was put on strict ‘bed’ rest and on daily pain relief, kept in a small enclosure to minimise how much he could move around, because if left in the larger enclosure with the other 5 adult male cheetah in his coalition he would have made his injury much worse, it is hard to ask a cheetah to rest, you have to force them! Mentally this a huge challenge to put an animal in a small enclosure for 3 months, where he can see his friends on the other side of the fence in the open, and for a lot of the other cheetah this would have been too much to ask of them as would put a lot of mental stress onto them, but thankfully Duma is one of the most gentle and patient animals I have worked with and his demeanour always remained upbeat and friendly, everyday when we would go into to feed him or check on him or just to spend time with him he was always bright and happy, which makes my life as his vet a lot easier.

Once 3 long months had passed, we took x-rays of his hip to see how the healing process had been doing and the fracture had healed really well and he seemed more comfortable on his hip, which was great news! Now that his bones had healed the next step in his recovery was to address the muscle loss in his hips, since he had not been walking or using his hips for much at all for 3 months he lost a lot of muscle around his pelvis and they had become stiff, which was to be expected. So the next step would be rehabilitation/physiotherapy, which is a common part of recovery from a fractured pelvis in domestic species like cats and dogs but in cheetahs it is unheard of… literally.

As far as I am aware there are no cases of physiotherapy in cheetahs that have broken their pelvis, or if there are then very few cases. But I wanted to give Duma the best possible chance of making a full recovery so I spoke to Rachel Cartwright (from 4PointPhysio), a fantastic certified animal physiotherapist in the UK who has been treating my own dog back home for his hip dysplasia, so I knew she would be a great person to ask. So she sent me a bunch of exercises she usually does for dogs & horses that help build muscle in the hip and bring back functionality, and so from the exercises she gave me and I took inspiration from there and adapted it to what I have available to me in Somaliland and in our facilities and created a physiotherapy program for Duma… the cheetah.

I had set out a 4 week plan for him, gradually increasing the difficulty and effort before aiming to have him ready to return to the main enclosure and rejoin his coalition. This was a big ask, to delay his return by another month when 3 had already gone but I knew Duma could handle it. So using a bit of minced camel meat in my hand I would entice Duma to follow me from one side of the enclosure to the other, where he would have to either walk over, jump over, crawl under a set of obstacles (see photos below), these obstacles consisted of either wooden panels or long bamboo poles that I would place through the wire meshing at various different heights which would make him exercise and use his hip more and more in order for him to get me, and more importantly to the meat.

This was only possible due to the close bond I had with him, I had known him for months so I knew I wasn’t in harm’s way and I knew and trusted Duma’s character, not every cheetah that we have would be allow me to do this with them. Duma’s friendly character made it possible, he would gently lick the meat off my hand without ever taking a chunk out of my hand, but this is not something I recommend for anyone to do, this was only for the treatment of Duma’s injury and not for my entertainment. I must make that point very clear as we are fighting to end the perception that wildlife should be kept as pets. 

Link youtube Duma’s physical therapy https://youtu.be/QKXGHKsdcAg

Dr. Mahesh Bhatt and Dr. Laurie Marker with Duma
Dr. Mahesh Bhatt and Dr. Laurie Marker with Duma
Duma getting therapy
Duma getting therapy
Duma with his mates
Duma with his mates

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Cheetah cub at CCF Safe House in Hargeisa
Cheetah cub at CCF Safe House in Hargeisa

Immediate action is needed to protect cheetahs in this region, which are at high risk of local extinction.

OTJIWARONGO, Namibia — April 22, 2021 — Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) today announces a global campaign to “Eliminate, Neutralize and Disrupt (END) Cheetah Trafficking”, a worldwide effort to put an end to the poaching of cheetah cubs to supply the illegal pet trade. From 22nd April through 22nd June 2021, CCF and its network of affiliated organisations will conduct activities to generate awareness for the threat and raise funds for CCF’s work. CCF will also engage its social media audiences in dialogue on the issue of cheetah trafficking.

An estimated 300 cubs are being taken from the landscape in the Horn of Africa each year due to a deadly combination of illegal wildlife trade and human-wildlife conflict, while the population of reproducing cheetahs (adult and adolescent) is estimated to be fewer than 500 individuals.

“Every cub taken puts us one step closer to losing cheetahs in the Horn. People must stop poaching now. Not only are communities draining their own natural resources, but their actions are decreasing local biodiversity, which makes for unhealthy landscapes and impacts human communities in profound ways”, said Dr Laurie Marker, CCF’s Founder and Executive Director. “In the age of COVID-19, the importance of having healthy landscapes has never been so clear”.

Cheetahs are at a critical juncture in this part of Africa. Cubs are being stolen from their mothers in the wild to supply the international illegal exotic pet trade. They are also being taken domestically by nomadic farmers to prevent livestock predation, which is often mistakenly attributed to cheetahs. While the international trade in cheetahs is banned under CITES, animals continue to be smuggled from the Horn of Africa to the Arabian Peninsula via a well-established trade route between Somaliland and war-torn Yemen. The majority are sold via social media (Instagram and Facebook) and mobile phone apps, for the perceived status, likes and clicks. These actions are putting the population of cheetahs in the Horn of Africa at great risk for local extinction.

Why are Cheetahs Trafficked?

For thousands of years, the ancient world elite kept pet cheetahs as a status symbol. Today, there is still a high demand for cheetahs as pets, mainly emanating from Gulf states on the Arabian Peninsula. Cheetah cubs are snatched from rural areas in the Horn of Africa to meet this demand. Cheetah trafficking is mostly driven by poverty in the source countries. Some cheetahs are taken because of the illegal wildlife trade, while others are taken in a misguided attempt to prevent predation of livestock, then sold to traders as a means of disposal.

While buying captive-bred animals may still be legal, cheetahs are a species that historically do not breed well in captivity. To meet demand, want-to-be owners take pride in obtaining wild cheetahs, and they are not dissuaded by the illicit nature of the transaction, or they do not know the repercussion of this trade on the wild population. In some jurisdictions, it is still possible to legally acquire and possess the species, but the keeping of cheetahs as pets has been outlawed in most parts of the world.

Most prominently, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) instituted a national ban on exotic pets in 2016. CCF believes this law has been highly effective in reducing illegal trade and demand for wild cheetah cubs in the UAE, plus it has had a dampening effect in neighbouring countries.

CCF estimates that three out of four cubs taken from the wild (75%) will die before becoming a pet, having suffered from malnutrition, dehydration and lack of care in the hands of the traffickers. Of those that survive, the majority won’t live beyond two years, due to improper care by unqualified owners.

Human-wildlife conflict, climate change and long periods of drought have placed additional pressure on rural farmers who live alongside cheetahs. Losing even one livestock animal to a wild predator can be financially devastating. In retaliation, they sometimes choose to sell cheetah cubs to recover their losses. A farmer in the Horn of Africa may receive up to $100 USD per cub, but a seller providing the cub to the end buyer may receive up to $10,000 USD per sale. CCF is committed to reducing both supply and demand.

CCF’s campaign to end cheetah trafficking

CCF works with governments in the Horn of Africa and on the Arabian Peninsula to address the illegal wildlife trade in cheetahs. CCF assists the government of Somaliland by supporting wildlife seizure missions and providing immediate care for the cheetahs rescued. CCF is training veterinarians in Somaliland and Ethiopia to assist in these missions at the point of confiscation and to generate awareness for better livestock management practices. At the same time, CCF is building capacity in local wildlife authorities to enforce environmental laws through a project sponsored by UKAID’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund, “Legal Intelligence/Cheetah Illicit Trade” (LICIT), and executed in partnership with Legal Atlas and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

From a base in Hargeisa, Somaliland’s capital city, CCF also delivers round-the-clock care and rehabilitation for 56 cheetahs and one leopard rescued from the trade. CCF has established three ‘Safe Houses’ to temporarily provide shelter for these animals while developing plans for a CCF Rescue, Rehabilitation and Education Centre and cheetah sanctuary on land set aside by the government to become Somaliland’s first national park. This new facility will provide naturalistic housing for the rescued cheetahs, and education and tourism opportunities for future generations of Somalilanders.

Caption: CCF’s Founder and Executive Director, Dr Laurie Marker, leads an integrated international and local team of veterinary care providers in Hargeisa, Somaliland, that manage the growing number of cheetahs in CCF’s care.

Cheetahs are Africa’s most endangered big cat, listed as “Vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Fewer than 7,500 cheetahs remain in the wild worldwide, but this majestic cat is being pushed to the brink of local extinction in the Horn of Africa by cheetah trafficking.

Ten of the eleven cubs seized in October 2019
Ten of the eleven cubs seized in October 2019
Five cubs arrive at the CCF Cheetah Safe House
Five cubs arrive at the CCF Cheetah Safe House
Dr. Laurie Marker giving care to cheetah cubs
Dr. Laurie Marker giving care to cheetah cubs

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Cheetah cubs at CCF's Safe House in Somaliland
Cheetah cubs at CCF's Safe House in Somaliland

OTJIWARONGO, Namibia (1 December 2020) – Dr Laurie Marker, Founder and Executive Director of Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), issued a statement today from CCF’s Field Research and Education Centre in Otjiwarongo, Namibia, on the status of the wild cheetah. The announcement is timed to coincide with the 10th annual celebration of International Cheetah Day (ICD), an occasion to generate awareness for the plight of the world’s fastest land mammal and remind people that its survival depends on humans. With fewer than 7,100 cheetahs remaining in the wild and the species on a rapid decline, Dr Marker cautions the time to undertake action is now:

“International Cheetah Day reminds people of all ages that cheetah survival depends on human conservation action. Famous for being fast — cheetahs can reach speeds of up to 70 mph (110km per hour) in short bursts – the species is threatened by human-wildlife conflict, habitat loss, loss of prey, fragmentation, and lack of genetic diversity. In East Africa, cheetah cubs are being poached to supply the illegal pet trade. Despite being outlawed in many parts of the world, keeping a cheetah as a status pet is still popular in many places. The demand for cubs is having a devastating impact on the wild cheetah populations in East Africa. CCF research indicates an estimated 300 cubs are being taken each year from adult populations estimated to total only 300-500 individuals. The cubs are smuggled through the Horn of Africa primarily into the Arabian Peninsula, most launching from points off Somaliland and entering through Yemen.

The facts are shocking: five out of six poached cubs will die before they can ever become pets. After being taken from its mother, a poached cub is likely to die within three weeks due to negligence, dehydration, and malnutrition. If a cub survives to three months and becomes a pet, chances are it will not likely live longer than two years, due to improper diet, poor environment, and a lack of proper veterinary care. People put images of their pet cheetahs on social media to elicit admiration, but would animal lovers still ‘like’ those photos if they knew of the harm being done? Cheetah cubs belong in the wild with their mothers; cheetahs are not pets. We must help humans understand this before we ‘like’ a species to death.

Taking cubs from the wild is wrong, and it will ultimately lead to the species demise. Taking baby animals from their mothers when they are weeks-old denies them the opportunity to grow up and contribute to the wild population. CCF will continue to work with our partners in Somaliland, and throughout the Horn of Africa, and we will also work with our international government partners who support this work, including UKAID through the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund, and the governments of Denmark, Netherlands and UK, which have committed their support through the Somaliland Development Fund, to address the scourge of cheetah trafficking until it has been eliminated”.

In 2019, CCF established CCF Somaliland with international NGO status, based in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. Here, CCF works with the Ministry of Environment and Rural Development (MoERD) to care for cubs intercepted from the trade by Somaliland government authorities. CCF currently maintains three facilities to provide shelter and veterinary care for 59 cheetahs in Hargeisa, the capital city, and is developing a cheetah sanctuary on land the government has set aside to create its first national park. The cubs range between five months to three years of age, and most struggle with health conditions due to the lack of care they received from smugglers and from being separated from mothers too early in life. They are vulnerable to many problems, including diseases brought on by malnutrition and dehydration.

CCF has been working to counter the poaching of cubs and the illegal wildlife pet trade since 2005. In 2011, CCF began building a network in Somaliland and establishing working relationships with local government authorities. In 2019, CCF was awarded a grant from the UKAID IWT Challenge Fund to build capacity in wildlife law enforcement in Somaliland, Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen through its project, LICIT (Legal Intelligence/Cheetah Illicit Trade), with LICIT grant partners, International Fund for Animal Welfare and Legal Atlas. So far in 2020, CCF has assisted the MoERD with the confiscation and disposition of 34 cheetahs. On 26 November, a landmark victory was achieved in Somaliland courts when eight suspects charged with cheetah trafficking were convicted. Seven received a one-year jail sentence, and the leader, a man who had been convicted on similar charges in 2018, received four years.

Dr Laurie Marker caring for a young orphaned cub
Dr Laurie Marker caring for a young orphaned cub
Orphaned confiscated cheetah cubs in CCF's Somalil
Orphaned confiscated cheetah cubs in CCF's Somalil

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Smartman MRI
Smartman MRI

OTJIWARONGO, Namibia – 10 August 2020 – In response to ongoing neurological problems manifesting in a resident cheetah at the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) Centre, the CCF veterinary team brought Ndunge, also known as ‘Smartman’, to Windhoek for an MRI on Friday, 7 August. The purpose of the medical scan was to help diagnose the cat’s condition, so the CCF team can provide appropriate care.

“We did x-rays early on without finding any cause, and we consulted with our team of collaborative national and international veterinarians, with no conclusive determination”, said Dr Laurie Marker, CCF Founder and Executive Director. “A couple weeks ago, when Dr Ulf Tubbesing, CCF’s consulting Namibian wildlife veterinarian was assessing Smartman, we decided to bring ‘Smart’ to Windhoek for an MRI”.

The CCF team drove early in the morning with Smartman to the Mediclinic Windhoek. They arrived in the capital city with enough time to stop at the Rhino Park Veterinary Clinic where Drs Ulf and Minty anaesthetised Smartman ahead of the procedure. When the big cat was deemed ready, the team made the ten-minute drive to the Mediclinic, where they were greeted by the Medical Imaging team.

This procedure marked the first time Mediclinic Windhoek conducted an MRI with a cheetah.

Smartman was brought into the clinic where he received the same type of MRI as humans. The entire process took about 90 minutes and was performed by a medical technician and by longtime CCF supporter Sybille Hahner , who also helped sponsor Smartman’s procedure along with her brother, Wilfried Hahner.

After the MRI was complete, Dr Pierre leRoux of Mediclinic Windhoek read the scans. On his initial reading, he could not make any determination regarding Smartman’s condition.

“While not indicative, the MRI does rule out certain common causes like tumours or slipped disks, and the scans will be shared with local veterinary specialists and our collaborative international team to get their opinions. We will not stop trying to figure out what’s wrong with Smartman until we do, so we can render appropriate aid. We want the best lives possible for all our animals”, said Dr Marker.

As of today, Smartman’s condition is still being assessed at the CCF Centre, where he is under 24-hour care and supervision by the CCF veterinary team.

Smartman's MRI Image
Smartman's MRI Image

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Cheetah Conservation Fund

Location: Alexandria, VA - USA
Website:
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Twitter: @Cheetah Conservation
Project Leader:
Beth Fellenstein
Dr.
Otjiwarongo, Namibia
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