Project #2521

Feed Orphan Cheetahs in Namibia

by Cheetah Conservation Fund
Cheetah Cub Wary of Humans
Cheetah Cub Wary of Humans

Our orphaned cheetah cubs here at Cheetah Conservation Fund are growing in leaps and bounds. In late July, five cubs came to us at four months of age with four being female and one being male. Half way through August we unfortunately had to bring in three more orphaned cubs at almost a year of age – two male and a single female – as their mother, Zinzi, was killed by a leopard.


With the hope of release back into the wild when they are old and strong enough, the cheetah team has to make sure these cheetah cubs remain wary of humans and are not habituated to their presence. We intend to make every effort to keep their wild instincts intact. Very few staff members have the ability to interact with these cubs and they are not visible to the public. This is to make sure the cubs do not become accustomed to people and vehicles which is vital for their survival in the wild.


With the use of special feeding and care techniques the cheetah team is able to have as little contact as possible while completing their husbandry tasks. Their daily routine involves making sure the pens are intact and clear of debris, their water is fresh, and they are getting a proper amount of food. In the wild, cheetahs may not necessarily eat every day and in order to mimic this behavior, the cheetah team uses fasting days in order for the cubs to maintain a healthy digestive system. The cheetah care team sets a series of enclosures to lure the cubs into a secluded spot for meals. This allows the team to clean their enclosures and maintain distance with as little contact as possible.

At the moment, CCF has separated the males from the females in both age groups. The reason for this is to introduce the younger male, from the litter of five, to the two older males from Zinzi’s litter, in hopes they will form a coalition and then they can be released as a unit. The younger orphaned male cub will have a better chance in the wild if he is part of a coalition. CCF also hopes to repeat this process with the female cubs from both litters. This will hopefully give all the orphaned cubs a better chance of survival in the wild.

Since the cubs’ arrival, they are growing more independent and brave by the day. It is clear to see which cubs in the litters take on certain roles such as: the most dominant, the look out, and the leader. Each cub has their own personality which is a good way for the cheetah team to tell them apart along with their distinguished spotted pattern. It is good to see the cubs becoming individual’s while still remaining very wary of anyone who comes by. Their hisses, spats, and cheetah slaps are very much appreciated!

Cheetah Cub Feeding
Cheetah Cub Feeding
Cheetah Cub
Cheetah Cub


Orphaned Cheetahs
Orphaned Cheetahs

August of this year Cheetah Conservation Fund became the guardian of five newly orphaned cheetah cubs. Their mother was killed while hunting on a game farm near Waterberg, so our cheetah team drove out to pick-up the four-month-old cubs. They had been in a trap for a few days; fortunately it’s currently winter in Namibia so they were not in danger of overheating, but they were all very scared and tired.

These cubs are very young, although we will do all we can to try to see their possible re-wilding, they may not succeed and therefore may stay at CCF for the rest of their lives. We are currently assessing their health and getting them accustomed to their new surroundings. We need support more than ever to help provide care and treatment for them. Their arrival was unanticipated and the reason they are with us is truly tragic.

These little cubs are not the only orphans new to CCF.  Just recently, Zinzi, a re-wilded cheetah, who successfully raised her wild-born cubs and has been followed by CCF's supporters for the past few years was killed by a leopard in the wild, leaving three orphaned cubs behind. On 13 August 2016, we had to say goodbye to Zinzi.  Sometime during the evening before, while travelling with her cubs Zinzi came across a leopard.  We can't be 100% clear on the specifics of what happened but it does appear that the leopard managed to catch and kill Zinzi while she was defending her cubs.  Regardless of what happened exactly, with her last act Zinzi once again proved herself a supermom as the next day we confirmed that all three of her cubs had survived the incident.  We immediately devised a plan and we successfully captured all three.  At 11 months old, the cubs would not have had good chances of survival on their own, but just like their mother we will plan to release them when they are old enough to take care of themselves. Though we are all so incredibly saddened by the loss of Zinzi, we know that her legacy will continue through her three cubs that she had raised so very well.  Zinzi's release was successful and though her life ended early, the cause was completely natural and could have happened to any wild cheetah.  

Though CCF runs a rescue, having cheetahs in captivity has never been, and never will be our goal.  As much as we can, we try our best to return as many cheetahs as possible to the wild where they belong.  This process however is incredibly difficult and the majority of our resident cheetahs are not suitable for release into the wild.

A wild cheetah, particularly a female, has a very difficult life.  From the time that she leaves her mother and any of her siblings (brothers and sisters alike), she is on her own.  The only time she will have contact with other cheetahs is briefly (just a couple days) when she is mating or when she has cubs (together an average of 18 months).  When she is mating, eating/hunting is not on the agenda and when she has cubs, she has on average four to six hungry mouths to feed in addition to her own with literally no support from other individuals.  Once her cubs are over one year of age, they will start assisting with hunts but often times they are more trouble than help as their immature antics will often ruin hunts.  The cubs improve substantially over time with teaching from mom, but by the time they really get good at hunting it's time to leave mom and head out into the world on their own and the female cheetah starts the entire process all over again.  Therefore, it's safe to say that a female cheetah is more or less 100% dependent upon herself, and for many months of her life has cubs that are 100% dependent upon her and her alone.  This is why we say all the time that female cheetahs are SuperMoms, and if you ever get to see the process first hand you will undoutedly agree.




Zinzi the Cheetah
Zinzi the Cheetah
Zinzi and cubs caught on camera trap
Zinzi and cubs caught on camera trap
Zinzi and cub with same intimidation pose
Zinzi and cub with same intimidation pose


Zinzi's Cub

Zinzi Update – Cub Sighting and Eye Injury

Unfortunately for us, Zinzi’s collar failed in April and we lost track of her and her cubs for a few weeks. The only information we had on her during this time was visual sightings by a neighboring lodge. The couple of times that she was seen by the lodge staff, they only saw three of her four cubs. From this information we had assumed that she likely had lost one of the cubs which is statistically common in cheetahs.

Then in a turn of luck, two Sundays ago another neighbor saw two young cheetahs around one of his waterholes and notified us. We went over to his property right away to have a look and found Zinzi! We immediately mobilized a team at CCF who met us in the field where we darted Zinzi and changed her collar. We tried to capture the cubs using Zinzi to tempt them out of hiding, but Zinzi was too clever and never called to them. We did not catch any of the cubs but we did get a glimpse of them and some photos later.

As soon as we let Zinzi go she immediately started calling and searching for her cubs and kept it up for five minutes afterwards! We put out a large chunk of meat for Zinzi, and our neighbor put up a camera trap at the meat. We were able to get images of all four of Zinzi’s cubs using the camera traps!!!! (see top image) This was unexpected so you can imagine how excited we were to learn of this. We later got a visual on all four cubs together with Zinzi and they all look to be in great condition!

We do have one concern with Zinzi at the moment. Her left eye is injured and sight in that eye has become compromised. We are not sure of the extent of blindness in the injured eye, but it seems there is a chance it could heal, so we are hopeful.

Cheetah Transfer: The Scientists

Back in September of 2014, CCFs coalition of male cheetahs nicknamed ‘the Scientists’ made the move to a guest lodge near Windhoek, called Kiripotib. Since this group is non-releasable back to the wild, this was a good alternative where they would have plenty of natural space and receive lots of care and attention.

At the end of February 2016 CCF received a call from the lodge letting us know that Mendel, one of the males, didn’t seem himself and was refusing food. CCF sent a team down to the lodge to assess Mendel’s condition and it was decided to bring him back to CCF for further testing. CCF anesthetized Mendel upon arrival at the Centre and took blood samples, along with checking his overall condition. It was found from his blood results that he may be suffering from acute renal failure. At his age of ten years old, this is not unheard of, as many older cats suffer from renal issues. Since his renal failure was most likely not chronic, the decision was made to treat Mendel with fluid therapy and see if this improved his condition. After several days of training, Mendel became comfortable enough to eat his meals in a small cage where keepers were able to administer subcutaneous fluids while he ate several times a week. This seemed to improve his overall condition and demeanor and he has seemed healthier every day. However, there was still something missing.

Mendel, being a member of a male coalition, is very bonded to cheetahs Fossey, Livingstone and Darwin. The four had never spent any time apart up until Mendels’ treatments. The decision was made to reunite the group at CCF, since Mendel will continue to require regular medical treatments that CCF is equipped to give. Since CCF was also home to a group of four non-releasable females, Bella, Padme, Kayla and Kiana, those four females would make the move down to the lodge and the males would return to CCF, in a grand ‘cheetah swap’. The living situation at Kiripotib is ideal for the females because of their pen layout; Kayla and Kiana would be able to have their own living space separate from Bella and Padme, relieving the tension that the two groups of females traditionally expressed towards each other.

CCF keepers’ first step was to capture the four females in crates and load them into a van for the six hour drive down to the lodge. Kayla and Kiana seemed particularly suspicious, so a lot of training in the weeks prior to the move was necessary to keep things running smoothly. All were quickly captured the morning of the move and off the team went, four cheetahs in tow. By the time the vehicles arrived at the lodge, it was evening and the sun had just set. The females were taken to their new enclosure and, once the males were moved into a small separate area, let out to explore. Although slightly confused at the change of scenery, all four females showed interest in their surroundings and especially the unfamiliar males in the adjacent pen. Kayla and Kiana had originally arrived at CCF with the Scientists in 2007, and although perhaps unknowingly, the original six were briefly reunited.

The following morning as the sun came up, the CCF team arrived at the cheetah pens to see how the females were adjusting to their new surroundings and to the capture the three remaining Scientists, Fossey, Livingston and Darwin for the second half of the move. The females, although cautious, approached their keepers for food. Kayla and Kiana didn’t leave each others’ sides, taking turns keeping watch diligently. When it came to the capture of the three males, they proved to be extremely food motivated and were quite cooperative.

Once all three males were captured without incidence, the van was loaded up, and the females checked on last time, the CCF staff headed back to CCF to reintroduce all four coalition-mates. After the journey, Fossey Livingstone and Darwin were released into a large pen adjacent to Mendel’s pen, so they could have a chance to adjust and familiarize themselves with Mendel again before the reunion. They adjusted to their new pen almost immediately, the made it theirs by scent marking every tree.

Reports from Kiripotib tell CCF that the females are adjusting well and seem to be enjoying their larger space, although they possess a stubborn streak that the males seem to lack. Although CCF misses the females, stubborn streak and all, it is nice to know that they are enjoying their new space.

Although the group dynamic has changed since Mendels separation, with Fossey and Livingstone claiming dominance of the group in Mendels absence, the four reunited without major incident and Mendels’ frequent purrs of contentment demonstrate that the reunion was a success. Mendel can now continue his treatments alongside the cheetahs that have been his lifelong companions.

Camera trap photo showing Zinzi and her cubs
Camera trap photo showing Zinzi and her cubs
Zinzi's old cracked collar, and newly fitted
Padme blending in to her new enclosure
Padme blending in to her new enclosure
CCF staff capturing Darwin for the transfer
CCF staff capturing Darwin for the transfer
All four together on a cold morning
All four together on a cold morning


One of Zinzi
One of Zinzi's Cubs

Zinzi and Family on the Move

CCF is happy to report that Zinzi and her four cubs are beating the odds and all are doing well.

“It’s hard to believe it’s already been five months since they were born. I just got to see them last month for the first time, and it was so great!” said Dr. Laurie Marker. “They are back on CCF land after venturing off property, living now in the Little Serengeti where there is a lot of wild game.”

According to her satellite-tracking collar, Zinzi has done some major moving with her cubs in recent weeks. For safety, she has been moving her cubs to new nests each night, traveling up to 15 kilometers during the wee hours. The two male and two female cubs are faring well, because at their age life is all fun and games. But it is exhausting work for Zinzi, who must hunt during the day, leaving her only a few hours each morning to sleep. Hers is an example of the Cheetah Supermom in action

Jacomina’s Cubs Get Satellite Collars

Back in the beginning of February, CCF staff with a news crew from CNN’s Inside Africa in tow ventured to Erindi Game Reserve to place satellite collars on Shandy and Savannah, the adolescent sisters born to rewilded cheetah Jacomina. The 20-month old cats were wearing VHS collars from age six months, but the new collars will enable CCF researchers to better track their movements.

“I am pleased to report both girls are in good health,” said Dr. Laurie Marker. “They are together now, but will probably separate in about four months when they begin mating. The collars will help us see what is going on with their social lives. We are learning that cheetahs have a matriarchal-dominated society. It’s very interesting, and we hope we will learn a lot from these two young females.”

(watch out Tiger Mothers, the Cheetah Mothers might displace you).

It’s Not All About Cheetahs

For one month beginning in late January, CCF Operations Manager Brian Badger hit the road on an international awareness building tour and goodwill mission taking him to more than a dozen zoos across the U.S. and the UK. The purpose of his trip was to communicate with the general public and zoo staff about CCF’s programs and holistic approach to conservation. Along the way he fortified relationships with some of CCF’s old friends and even made some new ones.

“It’s amazing how many people’s eyes were opened at the zoos – the keepers, the directors, and everyone else, Sure, the Bushblok program has obvious benefits, helping the environment and helping wildlife, but there is economic value in Bushblok, in creating jobs and in helping form a whole new biomass industry,” said Brian Badger. “It’s exciting to see people getting it, making the connection in their minds. Now we hope they will become good at communicating about it, so they can in turn inform their audiences. They were surprised at first, but now they understand when I say it’s not all about cheetahs.”

Badger’s U.S. tour landed him in chilly Washington, D.C., where he was given a warm reception by a group of CCF supporters before embarking on the first stop of his tour. Highly sought-after as a guest by the zoos, Badger’s busy itinerary took him through the Midwest, across the south and parts of Florida, before winding up back in the Mid-Atlantic region where he began.

“I’ve lectured at college and universities, at zoos and other events before, and I’ve also presented on TV and been a guest on radio, so I am very comfortable in this public speaking role. My aim is to educate people from around the world on the workings and goals of frontline conservation. It’s not al doom and gloom, there are successful things going on. There is potential for the future,” said Badger.

Badger was thrilled to get to peek behind the scenes at so many zoos, from the smaller community and independent zoos to the larger, better-funded zoos. His favorite event was a pre-Valentine’s Day program at The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore titled “Sex at the Zoo,” exploring unique mating rituals in the animal kingdom. “The crowd had a few drinks by the time I spoke, so they were very receptive to my humor,” added Badger.

Badger’s trip afforded him a number of personal firsts. Among them his first Uber experience (“the driver, she was very nice, very personable and cheaper than a cab,” remarked Badger), his first shrimp Po’ Boy, in Jackson, Mississippi (“delicious”) and his first $20 hamburger (“tasted like three bucks”).

“After 30 years in the conservation world, I have come to believe that real conservation, conservation that succeeds and is sustainable, requires a group of people who bring a diverse set of skills cutting across many disciplines. Today’s modern zoos have many talented people working on their staffs. We need zoos to play a part in our conservation strategies, to educate audiences and to bring their talented staffs to the fight.               

Jacomina's cub being recollared
Brian Badger, CCF Operations Manager
Brian Badger, CCF Operations Manager


Zinzi's Cub

In 2009, Zinzi, a 10 – 12 month old female cheetah, was captured by a farmer in the Karibib region of Namibia with no mother or other siblings. The farmer who caught her called CCF and the staff transferred her to CCF’s headquarters outside of Otjiwarongo.

Zinzi was orphaned at a much older age than we normally see. From the very beginning of her life at CCF, she had all the desired qualities that we look for in a release candidate. Cheetahs live with their mother until they are between 18 to 22 months of age, and it’s in the last few months that cubs learn how to hunt. In the wild, the male and female cubs remain with each other for a few months after they leave their mother. They hunt together during this time, as they are still not very skilled, but as a team they have more success in catching prey.

The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) operates a sanctuary for orphaned wild cheetahs that have lost their mothers at too early an age for self-sufficiency. In some cases, orphaned cheetahs are not suitable for release back into the wild. Imprinting on humans and loss of fear for humans can cause cheetahs to become problematic to local livestock. Under the right conditions, our research proves that certain individuals (normally those orphaned at an age of 6 months or older) display the necessary behaviour and characteristics (most notably a solid fear of humans) that make them suitable candidates for release back into the wild. CCF strives to rehabilitate and release these individuals. We have developed reliable methods for management and monitoring released cheetahs to maximize their chance of survival.

This was the case for Zinzi. Once at CCF, Zinzi was put in our 200 acre Bellebeno camp, an enclosure with other females of similar age and temperament. Here the cheetahs that have the potential for release are given limited human contact in order to maintain an appropriate level of wildness and shyness with humans and are exercised daily, chasing behind the feeding truck before being fed.

Zinzi spent nearly three years at CCF before being released back into the wild on June 2014. When we opened her transfer box she ran like a shot, and we did not see her again for an extensive period of time. We knew where she was by monitoring the GPS points provided by her satellite collar. During the first six-months of her release, Zinzi was only seen by the monitoring team a handful of times. Normally, a successful release depends on an intensive, month-long, post-release monitoring period. During this period the individual is checked up on regularly by the monitoring team. During this period, the monitoring team can provide assistance to the animal if necessary, through supplemental feeding and watering, until that individual is entirely self-sufficient. Zinzi never needed support or assistance. CCF teams regularly found the remains of her kills and saw consistent movement data transmitted from her GPS collar.

Releases and re-introductions of animals (whether wild or captive born) have been taking place for decades but, until recently, few criteria have been established to define success of such initiatives. Ultimately the main objective of these efforts is for the released individuals to contribute, through reproduction, to the already existing wild population. Zinzi was released into an area with a small population of cheetahs. Our research in Namibia has shown that cheetahs naturally live in a low density, of between 4 – 12 cheetahs per 1000 km2. On 12 September 2015, data from Zinzi’s satellite collar indicated that she had likely given birth to cubs and on 1 November 2015 CCF’s monitoring team saw the four cubs for the first time out of the nest. Rehabilitation success revolves around reproduction and survival. Therefore, we so far consider Zinzi’s rehabilitation a success.

So far, Zinzi has raised these four cubs entirely on her own, and this is a feat in itself, as often mortality is highest under three months of age. But, there is at least another 1.5 years until these young cubs will be able to care for themselves. Zinzi most certainly faces numerous challenges in the months to come, but she is well on her way to success and, if her performance over the last year and a half since her release is any indication of the next months ahead of her, her chances are good!

Zinzi's Cubs
Zinzi's Healthy Cub



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Organization Information

Cheetah Conservation Fund

Location: Alexandria, VA - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Beth Fellenstein
Otjiwarongo, Namibia

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