Saving Cheetahs One Day at a Time: My Experience at CCF

  • by Katya Picciani April 19, 2023
Saving Cheetahs One Day at a Time: My Experience at CCF

The loud rumbling sound of rain hitting hard of the wooden roofs will forever be my solace when I get overly stressed in life. The smell of long grass and the sun glazing over the dry dusty sand roads will always remind me of a place I got to call home.

This year I was proud and beyond grateful to have been allowed the experience to work at Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF). Words cannot even begin to describe how blessed I am to have spent a total of 6 weeks at the CCF in Otjiwarongo, a small city in Namibia, Africa. I have learnt more than I could have imagined, made friendships that will last a lifetime and memories that will never fade.

Katya is in the middle with a glass.

I was provided with the opportunity to be part of a 5-year ongoing biodiversity project. This project aims to look at the long-term effects of bush encroachment on the biodiversity in African Savanah land, primarily cheetahs, which need open territory to hunt and thrive.

Myself, and two other Canadian Vanier College students (Alyssa Evangelista and Serena Duperron) initiated the pilot study for this project. The first step was choosing an area in which we could create six (1 hectare) plots. Four of the six plots would have different percentages of bush harvested. The effects on the fauna and flora over time will be closely monitored. The other two plots would serve as control plots, meaning there would never be any bush harvest.

The chosen area was severely encroached with these invasive thorny shrubs, to say the least. Every 2 meters you would either walk into cobwebs with spiders the size of your palm or get stabbed and sliced with the thorns growing from every corner. We started with allocated points on a handheld GPS and walked through the bush flagging every point we could. The following day a large tractor would follow the marked areas and create a road.  This road would serve as the primary entry into the 6 plots. The next couple of days we spent flagging the smaller roads which led us to the 1-hectare plots. To minimize damage to the ecosystem, which was already quite vulnerable, these roadways were carefully and manually harvested.

Once all the roads were created, we could start setting up for sampling in each plot. The first part of the project was observing the bird species, reptiles, and insect groups, specifically (Lepidoptera and Odonota). This was done using field gear such as cameras, GPS’s, binoculars, sound recording devices, range finders, aerial nets, petri dishes, etc. Each plot was sampled and observed for a total of 6 days. All findings would then be translated into an online shared google file. A total of 37 species of birds were commonly seen throughout the plot. Approximately 10-15 Lepidoptera species, 1-2 of Neuropterans and Odonata species. The next part of this study will include mammals and vegetation surveying and analyses. After two years of sampling, the bush harvesting will take place.


I was continuously learning in Namibia. By the end of three weeks, I was able to accurately identify every large mammal and at least 30 bird species. I was comfortable in the bush and all the challenges that entailed. Everything I learnt in Africa will never cease to help me in my future career and life endeavors. From communication, to patience, to determination and persistence, to thriving and surviving.

To fight climate change and save all the incredible species we are losing at a rapid decline around the world, we must work together. From country to country, from continent to continent. There should be no barriers that hold us back from helping in every way we possibly can. Cheetahs are equally vital to preserve as are caribou and other critically endangered animals. Africans and Canadians should work together to protect the incredible natural world we are so fortunate to live in.

I leave this article with a short poem I wrote on a beautiful day at CCF.

The sun feels reviving and ever so soothing,

The air feels warm and is seldomly refusing to cool down,

Happiness can be found in a place,

An ecosystem of endless space.

The birds sing in a perfectly orchestrated harmony,

The sky shares a glimpse of what is heavenly.

The colors are as bright as a firefly in the dead of night,

My sense of wonder is fueling and satisfying my appetite,

This is bliss.

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