Friday, 1 July 2011

An Introduction to the NCCC

First things first, thank you for stopping by and welcome to the official Namib Carnivore Conservation Centre blog! Let me begin by answering the most pressing question you may have…. what exactly is the Namib Carnivore Conservation Centre?

The NCCC is a unique carnivore research and education project based in Southern Namibia and formed from the partnership between the N/a’an ku se Foundation and Solitaire Guest Farm Desert Ranch (where the Centre is based).  The NCCC is part of N/a’an Ku se’s ongoing Carnivore Conservation Research Project that started in 2008.  The aim of this project is to solve human-wildlife conflicts in Namibia through sound scientific research on densities, home ranges and territories of Cheetahs, Leopards and Hyena.

To contribute to this project our key aims are:

·      To promote the rehabilitation and reintroduction of large carnivores back to the wild. 
·      To provide assistance with mitigating human-wildlife conflict.
·      To conduct a thorough study of the Solitaire Guest Farm’s large carnivore and game populations, and monitor them over time.
·      To carry out low impact eco-tourism to educate, inspire, and help provide funds for ongoing research projects.
·      To create partnerships with universities and colleges to provide student internships.

Solitaire Guest Farm is located 6km away from the small town of Solitaire in the foot of the Rantberg Mountains and just outside the border of the Namib Naukluft Park. 
The Guest Farm was established in 2004 and is owned by Walter and Simone Swarts.  The Swarts have always been passionate about wildlife and always envisioned their facility to be able to sustain conservation through low impact eco-tourism. They became good friends with N/a’an ku se’s directors Dr Rudie and Marlice van Vuuren and made their land available for the NCCC earlier this year. Work at the Guest Farm was soon underway and six months later a 500ha enclosure had been completed to be used to hold formally captive cheetahs as they undergo an environmental adjustment period before being released back to the wild, this process is also known as a ‘soft release’. In the future we may be a location to release leopards, however, due to being stronger and tougher animals leopards can be released straight to the wild without an adjustment period (hard release).

The NCCC started on the 27th of June 2011 when 4 cheetahs were transported from N/a’an ku se’s wildlife sanctuary near Windhoek and placed into the NCCC’s ‘soft release’ holding camp. You can read all about this exciting day by reading this entry on N/a’an ku se’s official blog.

So, let me introduce you to the first cheetah residents of the NCCC:

Annie and Betty
 Annie and Betty are three and a half year old sisters who were orphaned in the Okahandja region when they were only six months old. They have spent the last three years at N/a’an ku se’s wildlife sanctuary and are now old enough to be released.

Boris is a four-year-old male who was hunting game on a very small game farm in the Windhoek area. The farmer not wanting to harm him asked N/a’an ku se for help and in June 2011 he was successfully trapped and spent only a short period of time at the sanctuary before being transported to the NCCC.

In 2009 Spartacus and his brother were responsible for killing a suspected 35 calves on a farm neighbouring N/a’an ku se.  The brothers were therefore trapped and taken to the sanctuary. Sadly Spartacus’ brother died of illness soon after.  Spartacus then became notorious for being a very aggressive character, especially around feeding time.  Due to his preference for hunting cattle Spartacus is not suitable for release but to improve his quality of life he was also moved to the NCCC’s spacious 500ha holding camp.

Two N/a'an ku se biologists are stationed at the NCCC, Kate Echement and Matt Cleverley - the author of this well written  blog :) Kate and I are responsible for the monitoring and husbandry of the cheetahs, taking tourists on cheetah tracking safaris, collecting data for research and supervising volunteers.
We are really excited to say that the first few months of the NCCC have gone extremely well. We have taken 800+ people out to see the cats on cheetah tracking safaris which involves finding the cats via radio-telemetry and then walking on foot through the bush to see the cats. The guests absolutely love this truly unique experience with many giving donations and wanting to return to the NCCC as volunteers.
We have started placing camera traps around the farm and have already captured great photos of a young male Leopard, a Spotted Hyena, Caracal and Bat-Eared Foxes.
 In our first month a student group from the Maricopa Community Colleges in the States were with us for three nights and helped us start exploring the area. We taught the students how to track and they also helped us strengthen the cheetah camp fence and mapped the camp's roads with a GPS. The group was lead by Prof. Dennis Wilson who is an old friend of ours. It was great having his group here and they helped us out enormously, we are hoping to continue the relationship and welcome another group next year.

We currently have a student intern on site, Laura Eikendal, who is conducting a study on the habitat preferences of the cats in the holding camp and we have also welcomed our first volunteers. One of them, Barbara Ingrund, has had an article she wrote about her experience published by National Geographic Germany.

I hope this serves as an adequate introduction to the NCCC and you will return to this blog to check up on the latest developments.

All the best, Matt Cleverley