In May 2021 Mark and I decided to leave our jobs, sell our home, and take positions as managers for the Cheetah Conservation Fund’s (CCF) rescue center in Somaliland, Africa. From our home in Utah, we traveled cross country to D.C. with our three dogs, Mara, an Australian cattle dog, two pugs, Dori, and Radar, sold our car and flew our little family to Hargeisa, the capitol city of Somaliland, where the CCF rescue centre is located.
It was a tough decision to leave my position as an Animal Care Manager at Utah’s Hogle Zoo, a place where I had many wonderful experiences working with a wide variety of cats and other wildlife for over 20 years but the idea of living and working in Africa was an appealing one. We have been lucky enough to have visited Kenya and Uganda several times and always enjoyed our time in Africa. Mark, a former zookeeper himself had been a Maintenance Manager at a world-renowned ski resort for many years and was looking to get back to a job in conservation. We thought that managing the CCF Somaliland center together would give us the opportunity to work side by side to make a difference for cheetahs in Africa.
Arriving in Hargeisa with three dogs was an adventure on its own. Not many Somalilanders keep dogs as pets, there are hundreds of street dogs here, so seeing our three pup’s kennels come out of the plane caused quite the stir. We luckily had all their paperwork in order and a special letter from the Ministry of Environment and Rural Development to bring them in. The three dogs barked the entire ride through the dusty streets, past colorful, ornate metal gates, scattered herds of goats and sheep, shop stalls and cafes to the CCF headquarters. Judging from the looks we got, I don’t think many people here have seen a pug before. Arriving at the safe houses that first day and seeing how many cheetahs in CCF’s care as victims of the illegal wildlife trafficking, was a sobering experience. These amazing cats need to be in the wild, but people’s greed has stolen that future for them. We could tell that the CCF team has worked hard to give the cats a comfortable home here.
Mark and I have been in Somaliland for four months now and since our first week here we have been extremely busy organizing things and working with our dedicated team to give the best care we can to these animals. Mark has been tirelessly working with the local government offices and contractors to start the construction of a permanent sanctuary facility outside of the city. It is very challenging but will be so rewarding once it is complete. The cheetahs are wonderful to work with. It has been a pleasure to get to know the personalities of each one. Both of us are very fond of the awesome African leopard, Milo, who was also confiscated as a tiny cub, and thought to be a cheetah.
We have enjoyed learning some Somali words and getting to know the local people. On trips out to the future sanctuary site (see top photo), called Geed-deeblee, we have been lucky to spot some Somaliland wildlife such as, gerenuks. baboon, leopard tortoise, warthog, jackals, and my favorite, the spotted hyena. Cheetahs are endemic here and one day I hope to see one in the wild areas. Bird watching, even in the city, is a fun activity for us too. The cheetahs sometimes catch and eat those colorful birds I like to watch though.
Our three pups are doing well and have found a buddy in a former street dog rescued this year by CCF staff who’s name is Phoenix. Life here is a challenge but we are up for it. Every day we try our best to make a difference for the animals in our care and hopefully to change some people’s way of thinking when it comes to valuing wildlife and animals in general. At the end of each day, I look to the African skies and am glad Mark and I are on this adventure together, with our pups!