We were abruptly awakened by a commotion at dawn on Friday morning involving three of our resident, non-releasable cheetahs. Somehow the three cheetahs from the coalition we call “the Stars” managed to escape their enclosure. Quasar and his sister Soraya were nowhere to be found. Quasar’s brother Phoenix had found his way into the goat pen area.
Dr. Bruce Brewer, our General Manager, quickly brought Phoenix back to his camp, while staff, volunteers, students and interns went out to search for the two missing Stars.
It was not long before we found Quasar. He hadn’t gone far, but was badly injured. He had lost a great deal of blood. Quasar had serious injuries to his abdomen, which we later determined were most likely inflicted by a warthog tusk. He might have been trying to hunt the warthog, and the warthog defended itself from this inexperienced hunter. Quasar, orphaned since birth, never had the opportunity to learn survival skills from his mother. Knowing how to identify dangerous animals, maintaining a territory, finding water, knowing when to walk away from a kill, or what to hunt or how, are essential to a cheetah’s success in the wild.
Once Quasar was discovered, a flurry of activity began. Some of us kept looking for Soraya, others prepared to safely transport Quasar to the CCF Clinic, while yet others were phoning the vet in Otjiwarongo, Dr. Axel Hartman, and prepping the clinic for surgery.
Dr. Hartmann and CCF’s veterinarian, Dr. Amelia Zakiewicz, performed a two-hour surgery to clean and suture the damage caused by the warthog tusk. There was fear of peritonitis, but in the end the surgery went well and Quasar was put on close watch to make sure that he was recovering well after such a traumatic injury and significant procedure. Unfortunately, his heart stopped a few hours later, and despite all our efforts to resuscitate him, it did not resume beating. Our Star, Quasar, passed away at 2:40 that afternoon, and left a tremendous hole in all our lives – most especially his brother Phoenix’s.
Soraya is still out there and we continue to look for her. CCF’s Senior Ecologist, Matti Nghikembua, who is an amazing tracker, has found what seem to be her tracks in the area, but female cheetahs are notoriously more difficult to find than males. We believe she’s doing well –in captivity, she has caught small animals, and might be doing the same in the wild. Perhaps she has chosen freedom. She was the most independent of the three siblings, and is very likely the most capable of surviving on her own. We hope to find her soon, but if we don’t, we wish her a life full of good kills and maybe even some litters.
CCF is located in wild lands – we are hours away from the nearest city, the land is drought-ridden and life here can be very hard. Last Friday points out this stark reality for all of us. It was one of our blackest days ever at CCF. All of us at CCF are shattered at the loss of Quasar, and worried for Soraya’s survival. At least we can be grateful that Phoenix is safe. Quasar will never be far from us who knew him, and like Chewbaaka, we will honour him through the ongoing work we do to save his species. Despite the high emotion and unexpected loss, our outstanding team of staff, interns and volunteers is carrying on. There are farmers to educate, Livestock Guarding Dogs to breed, a Model Farm to run, research to complete. Life at CCF has to go on; today we have eight newborn dairy goats that give us a reason to smile and to gather strength. More importantly, the race against extinction for the cheetah can’t stop, not if we want to win it. A tragedy like this, as difficult as it is, only makes us more determined.
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