Etosha National Park

Zebra munching grass at the park entrance.

Zebra munching grass at the park entrance.

We recently took a long weekend trip with our new friends Silje and Neil to Etosha National Park, just a 3 hour drive from Cheetah Conservation Fund. Both the wildlife and landscape were phenomenal. We’ll let the photos speak for themselves – there are a lot of them this time. 🙂 Needless to say, we had a fantastic time and look forward to more Namibian adventures.

Starting an early morning safari in the freezing cold, sitting high up in an open-air vehicle.

Starting an early morning safari in the freezing cold, sitting high up in an open-air vehicle.

Naptime for young male lions.

Naptime for young male lions.

African wildcat, about the size of your very own house cat but much wilder.

African wildcat, about the size of your very own house cat but much wilder.

Black-bellied Korhaan

Black-bellied Korhaan

Elephant tracks from long ago when it was wet and muddy out here.

Elephant tracks from long ago when it was wet and muddy out here.

Giraffe

Giraffe

Wildebeest

Wildebeest

Lioness stalking a small kudu

Lioness stalking a small kudu

Mating pair of lions

Mating pair of lions

Elephant herd at their favorite water hole. See the tiny baby in the middle... And the giant male in the upper right corner...

Elephant herd at their favorite water hole. See the tiny baby in the middle… And the giant male in the upper right corner…

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Kori bustard - world's heaviest flying bird. They are very very big.

Kori bustard – world’s heaviest flying bird. They are very very big.

Giraffe and ostriches

Giraffe and ostriches

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Elephant and jackals at a water hole

Elephant and jackals at a water hole

Springbok

Springbok

Oryx with the Etosha pan in the background

Oryx with the Etosha pan in the background

Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk. How does it land in all those thorns?

Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk. How does it land in all those thorns?

Baby zebra in late afternoon sun

Baby zebra in late afternoon sun

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Diversity in a stark landscape

Diversity in a stark landscape – springbok, ostrich, hyena, wildebeest, giraffe, zebra…………………………

IMG_3265IMG_3206We hope this tells a bit of how incredible African wildlife is, and how worth protecting each of these species is.

– Jenna and Chris

Gardening for Cheetahs

The garden site as a blank slate.

The garden site as a blank slate.

Way back in early February, I began building a diverse organic vegetable garden at CCF’s center, right next to the ambassador cheetahs’ enclosure. The main garden site is about 30 by 60 feet and features long straight beds demonstrating farm scale vegetable production, as well as keyhole beds demonstrating home scale gardening with meandering pathways. As part of a greater effort towards environmentally friendly practices and wise resource use, CCF is interested in producing fresh vegetables to feed people consuming food onsite daily – more than 40 staff and volunteers, visitors to the Cheetah Café, and guests of Babson House luxury accommodation. A study from 2005 showed Namibia to be importing 80% of its fruits and vegetables, mostly from South Africa. Localizing food production will not only help CCF reduce the environmental and social impacts of transporting food, but will also provide fresher, tastier, more nutritious meals and save money.

Me and my gardening buddy, Petrus, shaping beds after loads of manure were applied and some tractoring happened.

Me and my gardening buddy, Petrus, shaping beds after loads of manure were applied and some tractoring happened.

Rising to the challenge of heavy clay-sand soil, we used every bit of aged manure from CCF’s farm and then made use of a by-product from our Bushblok production – wood dust. All these materials were mixed into parent soil to improve fertility and organic matter content. As we prep beds for upcoming plantings, we’ll integrate the compost we are currently making from food scraps, which, as many of you know, is an essential ingredient for any organic garden.

My nursery crew - expert seed sowers.

My nursery crew – expert seed sowers.

Since we began in February, our plantings include beans, beetroot, carrots, daikon radishes, peas, squash, lettuces, turnips, parsnips, rutabagas, cilantro, chard, endive, mustard, rocket, spinach, radishes, okra, and sunflowers and other flowers to attract pollinators. Soon we’ll be transplanting onions, leeks, artichokes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kohlrabi. By having this much diversity in a small space, we are able to use organic methods and keep the garden chemical-free. Big thanks to Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, based in Missouri and distributing from Petaluma, California – for donating more than 60 varieties of heirloom vegetable seeds. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is preserving agricultural and culinary heritage by carrying the largest selection of seeds from the 19th century. Yeah! Thanks to my friends at Indian Valley Organic Farm in Novato, as well, for donating seeds for some unique leafy greens and flowers.

A bit of our seed library.

A bit of our seed library.

Newly sprouted seeds – broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi.

Newly sprouted seeds – broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi.

Our first planting - sunflowers, beans, beets, and carrots.

Our first planting – sunflowers, beans, beets, and carrots.

On the 3rd of April, we held a dedication event, naming this site the ‘Chewbaaka Memorial Garden’ in honor of CCF’s longstanding ambassador cheetah who passed away two years ago on this day. With plans for water conservation practices and beekeeping in the works, CCF hopes to include the Chewbaaka Memorial Garden in farmer training programs in the future.

CCF’s Executive Director Dr. Laurie Marker and team speaking at the dedication of “Chewbaaka Memorial Garden”

CCF’s Executive Director Dr. Laurie Marker and team speaking at the dedication of “Chewbaaka Memorial Garden”

University of Namibia students, CCF staff and volunteers, and visitors gather at the garden dedication

University of Namibia students, CCF staff and volunteers, and visitors gather at the garden dedication.

Good peeps at CCF - Chris with kitchen staff and volunteers.

Good peeps at CCF – Chris with kitchen staff and volunteers.

My gardening buddy Petrus weeding the beets.

My gardening buddy Petrus weeding the beets.

Thus far we’ve harvested lettuce and beet greens from the garden, and tonight we ate radishes and made a radish leaf pesto. Yum! More deliciousness to come soon…

– Jenna

Counting Critters

It took this giraffe 20 minutes to get into drinking position.

It took this giraffe 20 minutes to get into drinking position.

One of our activities at CCF is helping with monthly waterhole counts. A waterhole count consists of sitting really quietly for 12 hours in a hide/blind (a tiny structure with a long skinny window) and counting how many of each kind of animal comes to drink. Four waterholes are counted each month at CCF’s Bellebeno Camp, where captive cheetahs that might be released in the wild get to practice their hunting skills. These counts give CCF an idea of which game species (potential cheetah food) and predator species (potential cheetah competition) are living there and roughly how big the populations are. These are some of the friends we met at our last two counts.

Adult oryx

Adult oryx

Warthog family

Warthog family

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Male eland

Male eland, reminds me of a mythical creature.

Eland looks down the road

Eland heads down the road

five zebras

Jackals drinking

Jackals drinking

Jackals playing

Jackals playing

Springbok with a salt lick

Springbok with a salt lick

Baboon yawning

Alpha male baboon yawning

One of these does not belong...

One of these does not belong…

Mama and baby giraffe running

Mama and baby giraffe running

Adult male kudu

Adult male kudu

This is just a sampling of some of our local neighbors. There are many more nearby. This week we went on a nighttime animal count and saw an African wild cat and an aardvark!

-Chris and Jenna

Ice Cream and Ecology

CCF geneticist Silja Hogner and veterinary intern Neil Walton are excited to explore the new trail

CCF geneticist Silje Hogner and veterinary intern Neil Walton (our housemate!) are excited to explore the new trail

Last week, CCF celebrated the re-opening of the educational nature trail that I’ve been working on. Interns, volunteers and staff gathered after work at the newly improved trail entrance for an introduction to the trail and taste tests of the latest batch of goat milk ice cream that Jenna and her accomplice Hanlie have been cooking up in the new creamery. Then everyone had the opportunity to explore the trail and see all the changes that had been made.

Three flavors of CCF goat milk ice cream fresh from the creamery: chocolate coconut, peanut butter, and chocolate peanut butter

Three flavors of CCF goat milk ice cream fresh from the creamery: chocolate coconut, peanut butter, and chocolate peanut butter!

The Savanna Trail (formerly known as the Lightfoot Trail) winds its way through 1.4 km of thornbush savanna habitat near Lightfoot Camp, where rustic accommodations for interns, staff and visiting school groups are located. I worked for about one month with CCF volunteers Jeff Peereboom & Titus Shaanika to revamp the old trail. We cleared brush and leveled the trail surface, making it safe for visitors. New items were added to the trail, including: a rest area; a bird-viewing blind and bird bath; a cheetah “play tree” exhibit; and a collection of animal bones and carcasses.

Surveying the remains of a large male eland at the Carcass Area, with Chavoux, Deg and Gabriel

Surveying the remains of a large male eland at the Carcass Area, with Chavoux, Deg and Gabriel

A few days after the trail opening, students from Wakefield School in Virginia were the first visitors to try out the trail’s attractions. They used the new guidebooks to give themselves a self-guided tour of the ecology of the thornbush savanna. The students reported that they learned a lot: the names of common plants and their uses; the role of termites in the savanna ecosystem; what kind of animals might live in all those burrows; and much more. I hope that the trail will provide learning opportunities for many visitors in the years to come!

-Chris

CCF ecologist Chavoux Luyt with the new trail guidebook

CCF ecologist Chavoux Luyt with the new trail guidebook

The new bird-viewing blind

The new bird-viewing blind

Map of the trail

Map of the trail

New Baby Cheetah

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This is Rainbow. She came to us at CCF a couple of weeks ago. She is about 3 months old and is the only young cheetah cub here at this time. I had the pleasure of going along to feed her and got to take these photos of her beautiful face. CCF got a call from a Namibian man who found 5 cheetah cubs – siblings – in the wild. He was driving at night and unfortunately hit one cub with his car. It died right away. Three of the cubs ran off into the wild. One cub lay in the road unhurt and let him capture her – this is Rainbow. All 5 cubs had clearly been without a mother for a while. They were scrawny, malnourished, and had big eyes and feet disproportionate to the rest of the body.

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Cheetah cubs usually stay with their mother until 18-22 months old. Rainbow is 3 months. This means she won’t be eligible for release back to the wild because she’ll be too long without a mom to teach her how to hunt and survive on her own. After 18-22 months, female cheetahs leave their mother and siblings to live on their own. Male cheetahs leave their mother but stick with their brothers to form a coalition.IMG_1856

The man who found Rainbow kept her for a week in a small cage without enough space to stand up. Because of this, she developed sores on her back legs and her bum, which are healing now.  When I first met her, I was shocked at the huge size of her feet and front legs compared to her tiny body. We don’t know what the man fed her, but the loss of her mother and the inability to hunt properly led to extreme malnutrition. She is getting plenty to eat now and is looking better every day.

IMG_1859Rainbow was really grumpy when she first arrived. She continues to growl and hiss quite a bit when people come around. Since she is most likely to live out her life here at CCF in a big enclosure with plenty of food, the team here is working on showing her that people aren’t all bad and that she can trust us to take good care of her.

Rainbow is named for the big bright double rainbow that hung in the sky on the day she arrived.

Rainbow is named for the big bright double rainbow that hung in the sky on the day she arrived.

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Because Rainbow’s tummy was so small when she first arrived, she had to work up to a decent size meal slowly. Now she’s eating about 2 pounds plus 1 rib of donkey meat each day.

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This is me releasing cheetah Josie to a large enclosure - part of the process of bonding him with a group of three other male cheetahs.

This is me releasing cheetah Josie to a large enclosure – part of the process of bonding him with a group of three other male cheetahs.

– Jenna

In the Bush

A few days ago, Jenna and I climbed up Leopard Hill, a small rocky rise to the southeast of our house.  From the top, there is a good view of how CCF’s Namibia Centre is surrounded by an almost endless sea of trees and shrubs, which is called “bush” over here.  Our house is circled in the photo.

Our home in the bush

Our home in the bush

It didn’t always look like this. One of the biggest environmental challenges in Namibia is “bush encroachment,” where trees and shrubs take over grasslands, diminishing the quality of forage for livestock and the quality of habitat for many kinds of wildlife. When we think of Africa, we usually think of the grassy savannahs, where giant herds of ungulates thrive, along with predators like lions, leopards, hyenas, and cheetahs. Namibia, along with many other parts of Africa, is losing its savannahs to bush encroachment.

It is thought that bush encroachment is caused by the complex interactions of overgrazing and fire suppression with natural cycles of drought and rain. Basically, having too many livestock in an area can kill off the grass species and favor the growth of trees and shrubs, especially when the grasses are first stressed by drought and then a few good rain years let the woody plants get established.  It is a very hard process to reverse.

CCF recognizes that too much bush can reduce the number of game animals available for cheetahs to hunt. It also makes it harder for the cheetah to use its speed advantage, since it’s harder to run through thick bush. Also, farmers who have lost prime grazing land to bush will be more economically stressed and more likely to kill a cheetah if they see it. CCF’s Bushblock program is restoring savannah habitat by clearing bush and turning it into compressed wood briquettes that are sold as “cheetah-friendly” firewood.

The beginning of the nature trail

The beginning of the nature trail

Speaking of savannahs and bush, I am working on a project here to improve an existing nature trail at the Centre. We are clearing a section of bush along the trail so that visitors can get a feel for what the original grassland used to look like.  We are also adding a bird-viewing blind, a salt lick to attract animals, a carcass area (where we will place animal skeletons), and other fun and interactive elements.  Oh, and we are also changing the name of the trail 🙂

-Chris

Working on the trail, with Titus Shaanika

Working on the trail, with Titus Shaanika

jenna w kudu antlers

Jenna with kudu antlers

Breaking Ground

The Front Porch Nursery

The Front Porch Nursery

The past week has been about breaking ground in a variety of ways – in the soil, in the creamery, and in the clinic. Laurie Marker (CCF’s Director) and I made the 3 1/2 hour drive to Namibia’s capital city, Windhoek, and visited a fantastic nursery. We picked up a loads of plants, mostly edible perennials including figs, pomegranates, pineapple guavas, a cumquat, rhubarb, and lavender. Then we gathered some cuttings of Frangipani, also known as Plumeria to those of us who know and love Hawaii, and headed for home.

I started some vegetable seeds in pots, as well. All these seeds and plants have come together on our porch to make the beginnings of what we now call ‘The Front Porch Nursery.’ Lucky for me, I’ve had lots of help, mostly from the neighborhood kids, who might just become my loyal nursery and garden crew. As you know, we’ve been waiting for a broken tractor to be fixed for what seems like an eternity. So, while waiting we are moving forward with our edible/ornamental landscaping plans in the front yard of our house. Yesterday we planted 6 new frangipani trees – hooray for breaking ground!

Nursery crew

Nursery crew

More nursery crew

More nursery crew

Our front yard (AKA blank canvas)

Our front yard (AKA blank canvas)

CCF has a model farm with dairy goats and makes fantastic cheeses – feta and chèvre. Three years in the making, we just had a grand opening for the brand new Dancing Goat Creamery here on site. I am honored to be here for this event and loved seeing the enthusiasm of all the folks involved. The new creamery is beautiful, and cheese-making in this new facility began this week. As of now, CCF uses these goat cheeses in the Cheetah Cafe here and sells to restaurants and supermarkets around Namibia. We are working on growing more sales outlets.

Creamery Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting - General Manager Bruce, Director Laurie, Kitchen Manager Hanlie, Kraal Supervisor Tyapa

Creamery Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting – General Manager Bruce, Director Laurie, Kitchen Manager Hanlie, Kraal Supervisor Tyapa

Last week Chris and I had the incredible privilege of participating for our first time in cheetah annual exams in the clinic. We were present for the exams of two male cheetahs – Fossie and Mendel. We monitored body temperature, checked heart rates, took blood samples, pulled off ticks and burrs, looked at teeth, helped with semen collection, looked at sperm counts, and took lots of photos. As we got to touch the cheetahs’ bodies, we learned that the fur of their black spots is much softer than the yellow fur covering the rest of the body:)

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chris.cheetah.clinic

 

-Jenna