Field Search with the Scat Dog Team

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We left CCF very early with our two scat detection dogs, Levi and Ole, in the back of our bakkie heading to a farm located about 70 km north of Otjiwarongo. We arrived with the first light and witnessed the sunrise over the open grasslands with many antelopes and even a group of giraffe. Since our working hours are limited to the cooler times of the day it was about time to get started. After getting information and directions by the head ranger at the farm we began our first search of the day.

The area we were searching was chosen according to radio collar data collected from one of our released cheetahs. This data would hopefully increase our chances to find a scat sample. Everybody was really excited about this farm visit because it was the first offsite search since our former detection dog, Tiger, retired from the program. Despite this being a trial run for our freshly set up team our expectations were still high since the long term goal of our scat dog program is to find samples from predators throughout Namibia.

Quentin and Levi – photo by Benedict Pugsley

After several hours of hard work for all team members, we had to call it day due to the increasing heat. Levi and Ole performed very satisfactory and did their best to turn this visit into a success. It is great to see their enthusiasm and passion for this type of work even though we faced challenges that affected both humans and dogs such as very high grass and thick bush vegetation. By providing water for the dogs and giving the team a rest in shady areas we managed to increase the working hours, but unfortunately we did not find any cheetah scat samples. All the play trees which we knew about from previous visits were found inactive. We carefully searched around trees and termite mounts that looked promising but still we weren’t able to detect any signs of cheetah. Quentin and myself kept our dogs happy and reassured that they were in “working mode” by placing several training aids during the search which they indicated and therefore, we think that there was no cheetah visiting the area recently.

Tim and Ole – photo by Brian Wegner

Later the local rangers they told us that they haven’t seen a cheetah or signs of their presence in more than two months. Also, since we know from previous investigations we have to walk about 22 km to find one cheetah scat sample, it is not surprising that we did not find any samples during this visit as we did not cover that much distance. Again, we were reminded how difficult it is to find evidence of the presence of an animal that lives so elusively and moves over a large territory.

We arrived back at CCF in the late afternoon ready for a good night sleep. Although we didn’t find any cheetah scat, we completed one road search with Ole and 2 searches in thicker bush with Levi. From these searches we did find samples of other predator scat and didn’t have to come home empty handed. We know that we still have a long road ahead of us, but we are happy with the outcome of our trip and are already making plans for the next farm visit.

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