Thursday, 1 September 2011

Boris: The First Release

The 30th of October marked a very important moment for the NCCC as it was the day that saw our first cheetah released back to the wild. It was made even more special as it was also the 40th cheetah N/a’an ku se has released.

The cat in question was Boris, the four year old male (as mentioned in the previous blog) who was trapped and taken to N/a’an ku se’s wildlife sanctuary in May 2011 after he had been hunting game repeatedly on a small game farm in the Windhoek area.

One of our most important tasks over the past few months has been to get Boris back into good condition. This was because when he was first released into the camp he was slightly under weight due to not eating all of his food given to him at the wildlife sanctuary, which often happens when a fully wild cheetah is placed in captivity and has to adjust from eating live food to pieces of meat.

So by late October Boris had spent almost 4 months in the camp and had bulked up nicely, acclimatised to the area and had hunted several springbok - he was fully ready to be put back where he belongs. A date was set and our directors Dr Rudie and Marlice van Vuuren made the trip to Solitaire accompanied by a handful of excited N/a’an ku se staff members and a film crew from Homebrew Films who are filming for an ongoing documentary series about N/a’an ku se for Animal Planet, the series will be called 'Wild Animal Orphans' and will be aired on DSTV across the whole of Africa in March 2012.

The day before their arrival Kate and I had successfully trapped Boris in a trap cage. This was done by simply placing the cage in his favourite area in the camp and placing a tasty looking zebra leg in the cage. This meant that Boris would have to spend a night in the cage but darting him on the day was simply not an option as he would run away or hide deep in a bush when he saw us approach.
So on the morning of the 30th the entourage drove to the camp where a very confused Boris was waiting for us. Before releasing Boris we had to change his VHF collar for a brand new Sirtrack GPS collar. Sirtrack is a New Zealand supplier of wildlife tracking devices and they have generously donated a number of tracking collars to N/a'an ku se for our conservation work as part of a new partnership together. Boris' collar will send GPS points to a satellite every day allowing us to log onto our computer and download the data and monitor his movements.

Rudie quickly prepared the dart gun and he and Marlice slowly approached the cage. Marlice distracted Boris and Rudie made a successful shot and it only took a few minutes for the drugs to take effect. With Boris fast asleep we carefully removed him from the cage and placed him on the back of one our Landrovers. The collar was quickly replaced  and a couple of very small wounds he had sustained in the cage were treated (hopefully that will be the last trap cage Boris will ever see).
With his new collar fitted Boris’ moment had arrived and we slowly drove just outside the pen and into an open grass plain to the East. We found a nice shady tree and placed the still sleeping Boris under it. Rudie administered a quick acting reversal drug and then we all stood back.

Boris slowly came around and after gazing in our direction with more confusion he staggered to his feet and with the drugs still in his system, wobbled away into the bush towards the mountains. It was an amazing feeling watching him go free and as the reversal drug took hold his movement quickly improved and he walked further away from us experiencing life as a wild cheetah again.
The next day we eagerly opened the Sirtrack software and downloaded the first point sent to us from Boris’ collar. We were pleased to see that Boris was still on our farm and not far from the release site.

Our attention then turned to Spartacus who needed to be vasectomised. This was necessary because as Spartacus will not be released we do not want him mating with any of the females we will have in the camp. Everything went very smoothly, Spartacus allowed us to approach and dart him without any trouble and Rudie and Marlice carried out the procedure quickly and efficiently. There was also a collar change for Spartacus as we swapped his malfunctioning one for Boris’ old VHF collar. Kate and I now hope on some occasions it wont take up to an hour to find him! Spartacus woke up under a shady tree and as you would expect did not look too pleased with us, so we left him to rest.
It was a very exciting couple of days and it was great to hang out with some of our N/a’an ku se colleagues who we don’t see that often. Rudie and Marlice along with the film crew then started their journey further south to one of N/a’an ku se’s other research sites at the Sandfontein Nature and Game Reserve where three more cheetahs will be released.

The following picture is a map of Boris’ movements during his first four days back in the wild. His collar sends a GPS point once a day around 6:00am in the morning.
The morning after his release Kate and I found his tracks along the eastern side of the cheetah camp where the two females, Annie and Betty like to hang out. He then moved southwards but not too far. Over the following two days he moved towards the mountains where a large group of oryx were seen, indicating that he may have been on the hunt. This morning however we discovered that he really stretched his legs and has moved off the farm and into an area by a river where we know there are also lots of oryx springbok and zebra.

Its fantastic knowing Boris is out there and we can’t wait to get to our computers in the morning and see where he is! Boris will be the first of hopefully many and the data we will gather about his movements is going to be invaluable for the ongoing research of N/a’an ku se’s Carnivore Research Project. We will of course keep you informed on Boris' progress.

Before I sign off, I'm sure you'll be pleased to know that Spartacus has fully recovered from his ordeal and was treated to a tasty rack of Zebra ribs yesterday :)

Photos by Deborah Binder

1 comment:

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