Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The Realities of Conservation: The Joy & the Heartbreak, Part Two

Part one this blog entry focused a lot on the heartbreaking nature of this line of work but this part contains a lot of joy! After Annie’s death we decided to check on Betty every three days to closely monitor her progress. We felt enormous relief every time we found her alive and well. Relief was followed by real encouragement in early April when we discovered her with a big full belly. Her kill was still close by; a juvenile Aardwolf. Betty had now proven herself capable of surviving on her own and we decided to back off from our intensive monitoring and check on her every 10 days.   
I am pleased to report that since the Aardwolf kill Betty has gone from strength to strength. The following map shows her movements since the GPS collar was placed on her.
Our ability to observe Betty at close quarters has provided us a unique opportunity to document the progress of this re-released cheetah. She has remained on friendly territory close to her release site, is hunting regularly and is looking in extremely good health.

On the 1st of August Betty’s GPS point located her on property belonging to  Ababis Guest Farm, who are one of our neighbours and kindly allow us onto their land.  Myself and our N/a'an ku se volunteers were closing in on Betty’s signal on foot when in the distance we saw a cheetah head pop up out of the long grass. We immediately hid ourselves behind some bush and a quick check through the binoculars confirmed that it was Betty. Then, to our surprise, another cheetah head popped up just behind hers! From a distance we continued to observer the two cheetahs for almost an hour. Betty’s companion crept closer to her position but we could only ever see the head, making it hard to ascertain if it was a male of female.
Chances of course are high that it was indeed a male trying to impress our beautiful Betty, especially as only days previously a male was sighted in that exact area. After the shock of loosing Annie, the thought of finding Betty with cubs in three months time would be a dream come true. We will of course keep you informed of any developments!

Another unforgettable encounter occurred only weeks later. On the 2nd of September Betty was again spotted on Ababis’ property during one of our game counts stalking a large group of Oryx. She crept to within almost 100m from the group but one observant Oryx spotted her and spooked the herd into running away. The next morning myself and our volunteers headed straight to the area where the Oryx herd was last sighted and a loud ‘beep’ form our radio-telemetry receiver indicated Betty was very close. We moved towards the ‘beep’ and hoped to find Betty tucking into a kill or at least nursing a very full belly.

I then heard rustling in the bushes ahead and whispered for everyone to stop, a young oryx calf then shot across us through the grass, closely followed by Betty....... we couldn’t believe our eyes! Betty and her prey quickly disappeared into long grass and we in turn gave chase. Within seconds the distinctive cry of an oryx in distress was heard and then silence.  
Our heart rates soaring we crept closer until we spotted the flailing legs of the young Oryx, which was on its back with Betty’s mouth biting tight around its throat. Thankfully for the unlucky calf death came very quickly. It is moments like this which make me feel extremely grateful to be doing the job I am!  We watched intently as Betty released her grip on the lifeless body and moved to the shade of a nearby tree, panting heavily. We watched for an hour but Betty chose not to tuck into her kill. Judging by her belly she looked to have already eaten something recently so the Oryx calf may just have been an opportunistic kill. We decided to leave her but I had already made up my mind to return the next day to confirm if Betty had eaten.
First thing the next morning I headed out to the same area and after getting by bearings a little wrong I ended up approaching the scene from a different angle to the previous day and found myself a little too close to Betty and her kill. She wasted no time charging towards me, hissing and spitting. I slowly backed away and was pleased to observe a much bigger belly on Betty and a good portion of the calf’s hind quarters eaten. Having confirmed what I wanted to know I left Betty alone to continue enjoying her prize. Watching Betty successfully living life as a wild cheetah has been a joy for me and Kate and no matter what the future may hold we are exceptionally proud of her! 
We are the Namib CARNIVORE Conservation Centre so that does mean we deal with animals other than cheetahs. In early September 2011 two orphaned female Genets we found alone in the bush and handed over to us. Genets are very shy nocturnal animals and quite rare to see. They are very good climbers and spend most of the night on the hunt for small mammals, reptiles and birds.

The two young sisters were kept away from human activity and Kate, myself and our volunteers have had many interesting nights trying to catch frogs from the river bed to feed them. Sadly, earlier this year one of the sisters died of an unknown cause but on the 29th of July the surviving Genet named ‘Jenny’ was released behind our campsite, marking our fourth carnivore release. Jenny has not been sighted since but that was to be expected due to her shy nature but we hope she is enjoying her freedom again.
We are also currently holding two young Caracal kittens that we collected on the 18th of June after receiving a call from another of our neighbours after one of her worker's dogs had killed the mother.
Upon collection we determined that we had a pair of sisters who have subsequently been named Kylie and Dani. We will keep the sisters until they have reached maturity where we then aim to source a radio collar and release them back to the wild.
So as promised a blog entry filled with some happier stories! I'll leave with a quick reminder to all our British friends that the Animal Planet documentary series about N/a'an ku se called "Wild Animal Orphans" has just begun so make sure to check it out on Thursdays at 8pm, especially because The NCCC is featured in the series finale!