Sunday, 11 December 2011

A New Arrival: Pepper

A few months ago Kate and I had the pleasure of meeting Fred and Onie Jacobs, owners of Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch and we got talking about the NCCC and our cheetahs. During this conversation Fred and Onie told us about an orphaned female cheetah they had adopted 5 years ago called Pepper. Despite being raised by Fred and Onie since 5 months of age, Pepper has always retained a feisty, wild nature and always showed a desire to explore outside her enclosure. Because of this upon hearing of our 500ha camp here at the NCCC Fred and Onie started to consider the prospect of donating Pepper to us in order for her to experience a more wild life. The decision to part with a much loved animal must have been very difficult for Fred an Onie but as a testament to their desire to provide Pepper with the best possible life they agreed to move Pepper to the NCCC.

So on the 23rd of November I along with our student intern Laura and volunteer Isabella Seeman went to Bagatelle to assist getting Pepper into a cage for transport. It has to be said being able to stay overnight at places like Bagatelle on business is definitely a perk of the job! Bagatelle is a beautiful place, in a stunning location, with great food and wonderful staff, I highly recommend it if you are ever in the area :)
After enjoying some fantastic hospitality upon arrival including sweet ice tea and a selection of delicious cakes we were taken by Onie to meet Pepper. Upon hearing the sound of her gate being jangled the sound of thundering feet could be heard and suddenly a beautiful big female was in front of us performing a very impressive display of dominance with her shoulders hunched, head bowed with an impressive scowl. 
Pepper was fairly easy to coax into the transport cage with the lure of meat and the following morning we loaded Pepper onto a bakkie and along with Fred and Onie made the trip back to Solitaire. Our directors Rudie and Marlice also traveled down and as the sun was setting Pepper had been darted and fitted with a radio-collar. She woke up rather confused, staggered to her feet and slowly moved off into the pen.

The next morning however, we had a problem, Pepper’s radio-collar had inexplicably stopped working and we had no idea where she was. Myself, Kate and our intern Laura then spent the following week desperately trying to find Pepper and get food to her. We placed a trap cage in numerous different positions depending on where we saw Pepper’s tracks, meat was placed in strategic places and we drove all over the 500ha pen calling for her, but to no avail. Here I will hand over to our new volunteer Mirjam Frey who arrived at the NCCC the day we took extra measures to find Pepper......

My first day I came here to the Namib Carnivore Conservation Centre about a 3 ½ hours drive from Windhoek: everybody is out in the Cheetah Pen. Pepper, the 5 year old Cheetah female can’t be found. Where is Pepper? To find her, Flo (the head of research at Naan ku se with whom I came down), brought the San Bushman Kiewit with him to find the hiding Cheetah. Off we go: In the area, where Matt and Kate thought Pepper might be, Flo and Kiewit started to track the Cat. In the meantime, Matt, Laura and I went through all the bushes on the other side of the Pen, where Pepper could be hiding. Unfortunately I wore shorts – why not at this bright, sunny and hot day – but actually it wasn’t that good idea, because grass in Namibia is not as soft as back home in Switzerland. It scratched my legs and after a bit it started to hurt. But no matter, we had to find Pepper, because we didn’t know for certain if she had eaten and drunk at all. It felt like looking for a needle in a haystack, especially as cheetahs are very good at hiding. 

But after it felt like hours Flo called us to come to their side. Kiewit has found tracks of Pepper and was pretty sure, Pepper must be somewhere in the area. We are all excited. Are we going to find Pepper soon? Flo, Kiewit, Matt, Laura and I walk in a line through the bushes where Pepper might be. Is she hiding in the grass? Or does she lie under a bush?  She is nowhere to be seen. Where is she? She must be somewhere here. Kiewit is always right about is findings. And then, Flo sees her sitting under a big pretty nice tree with a lot of shade.  At first sight she looks not to good, but as Flo gets closer he can see that she is just exhausted. We are so happy that we finally found her and that she is in good condition.
Flo, Kiewit and I keep an eye on her while Matt and Laura get some wire, to fence her into the bush for a couple of days.  We do that so we can dart her and exchange the collar. But in the first place also to keep an eye on her for several days, feed her, get her enough water and make sure she is fine before we release her back into the 500ha Cheetah Pen. While we put up the fence she is quite relaxed but at the same time observing what we are doing. That shows she is still pretty fit. As soon we have finished her temporary home, we can all get closer for a better look. And oh, she is such a pretty girl: Angular face with big black eyes and a tall slender body. She is such a beauty. She must have been really thirsty, because she drank almost three litres of water in a quite a short time. Finally she also eats some meat. Flo, Matt and Kate decide to dart her that same evening, to make sure we don’t ‘lose’ her again.  Flo easily darts Pepper and as soon as she falls asleep, Flo exchanges the collar as quickly as possible. Mission completed. Wow, what a great and exciting first day at the NCCC!
After the safe ‘return’ of Pepper, we check the next few days regularly on her, fill up her water and feed her with her favourite food Springbok. She seems to be quite relaxed in her temporary enclosure and looks really good. After 3 days Matt and Kate think Pepper is ready to be released back into her new home.  Before we release her Matt checks the response of the new Radio-Collar one more time just to make absolutely sure it works! Kate cuts down the wire. First it seems that Pepper doesn’t want to come out of her temporary camp. She is walking up and down until eventually she walks out of the enclosure. She is literally just walking out of it. No running, no spitting, no hissing, nothing. She just walks along the fence line as if nothing had happened at all.  She is really an awesome big and beautiful cat. 
Next morning, Matt, Kate and I are checking on her. Thanks to the new Radio-Collar we find her after a bit not far from where we’ve released her the previous evening. But their was a surprise, she is not alone. In front of her, sitting under a bush is Spartacus, the 10-year-old male Cheetah. Suddenly he jumps out, spiting and hissing at us, as if to let us know that she is his girl and he’s going to protect her.  They are so cute.  Will they stay together? We don’t know yet. But it would be so great if they could be friends, especially because both of them can’t be released into the wild and will stay in the pen. Funnily, Kate and Matt hoped this bond would happen while they where looking for Pepper. Therefore they tracked Spartacus and hoped to find Pepper with him. But of course, while her old collar wasn’t working, they didn’t get together – maybe her old collar was not fashionable enough to Spartacus :)

Mirjam Frey
Thankfully, since her re-release into the camp things have gone extremely well, Pepper and Spartacus have continued to be found together and she is quickly becoming used to us approaching her and accepting food from us. Most importantly her collar not only looks much better than the old one but also works perfectly!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Boris Update

Its been just over a month since we released 4 year old male Boris back to the wild and we are pleased to say that he is doing extremely well. His Sirtrack collar has sent a GPS point every morning around 6:00am and these points are shown in the picture below. His movements since the release show that for now he  prefers an area at the base of a mountain range located just inside the Namib Naukluft Park, we believe the points showing him in the plains towards the river are the times when he is hunting. The fact he is settled in this area must mean he is having successful hunts and does not feel threatened by any other carnivores that may be in the same area. For his first month of release we couldn't have wished for a better start, we will continue to monitor him and hope his success continues!