NamibiRand Cheetahs – June 2009

  • by CCF Staff June 29, 2009
NamibiRand Cheetahs – June 2009

We’ve had some tragic news from James down in NamibRand. After a couple of days of no sightings, James finally located Tisha close to the Boscia waterhole. She had been attacked and killed by a Spotted Hyena, probably shortly after feeding. Hyenas, like lions and baboons, are some of the cheetahs’ natural enemies. James recovered the remains, and the still functioning satellite collar.

James believes that Tisha was probably killed a couple of days before he found her body. The rocky environment made it difficult to get a good signal, and because of their continued nervousness, a decision had been made to hang back for a day or two anyway.

Shanti on the other hand seems to be doing extremely well, and given her continued fitness, has almost certainly hunted something for herself.

June 4: NamibRand Boys
It’s been a difficult week in NRNR. For those of you who don’t know, one of our other newly released cheetahs (Tisha), who was let out on May 24th, was killed by a Spotted Hyena a few days ago. Much of the monitoring focus has as a result switched to Tisha’s sister; Shanti. In the meantime, the boys have been causing a few distractions of their own.

Ra although fully recovered from his injuries, seems to be spending increasing amounts of time away from the other boys. After a successful oryx kill, the other four returned to the pens, but Ra stayed behind. A day or two later, and finally back, Ra approached James and the fence repair team very closely and was very difficult to discourage – possibly hoping for another food handout (as he received when he was recovering from his injuries). In the meantime, the others slipped into the large enclosure and are proving difficult to extract.

Despite these relatively minor problems however, they are continuing to hunt very successfully and regularly. How far they might roam without the presence of the captive females however, is impossible to be certain of.

June 6: NamibRand Mother
The data is again very sparse for the female this week, almost certainly due to the mountainous region she is remaining within. The few data points we have show her some 16 km east of the NRNR boundary. No data has been received since the 31st, but we won’t have another data download for a few more days.

June 10: Latest from NamibRand
Today was something else. I mean, even for our five, they did practically nothing (that I could see) all day! They were resting in the morning and then moved a couple of hundred metres around the corner and stayed there all afternoon. I think they may be resting up before going out hunting again tomorrow. Sometimes they seem lazier than normal the day before heading off, but they aren’t usually this bad. Maybe they had a bad night’s sleep with all the wind again yesterday, who knows? So I can’t report much besides Kia looked like he was scouting around for game (just looking, not moving of course…) and Mushara got up and stretched once. That’s about it really.

Shanti is a little more interesting though. She’s moved another good distance again and is hugging close to the mountains between the Draaihoek area and the Moringa valley, not too far from where I last caught a sighting of her. I followed her (with the signal, not visual) for most of the morning and saw that eventually she must have stopped in a crevice up the side of the hills, like she did last time.

I wanted to wait for a bit to let her settle down before chasing her off so, I went a little further down the road to check on an injured/sick Oryx who can’t walk, as her back legs have given in. She was first discovered during the Game Count on Sunday and when we went out to try and euthanize her, we realised she still had a very young calf with her that must be still suckling. We decided it would be best not to do anything in the end and just let nature take its course. Finding her today, near her resting place, we discovered some tracks and then caught a glimpse of our new friend, the Draaihoek Leopard. I imagine he’ll probably finish the job for us but we lost sight of him quickly and even though Paul and I tried to locate him again, he was gone. This put us in a predicament for sure. Shanti was safe but, we couldn’t go out walking when he was out in the bushes somewhere close by. Very frustrating but, if he does feed this evening I doubt he’ll pose a threat to us tomorrow, as long as we don’t push our luck. Nice to see him again though, as long as he stays away from the cheetahs, of course.

I checked again and Shanti was still in the same spot this evening so we’ll just have to wait and see if we can get to her in the morning. As long as she doesn’t trek over the mountains, getting a good sighting shouldn’t be a problem.

June 10: The boys attempt to hunt a zebra at NamibRand!

Shanti photo taken by Rob Thomson at the CCF grounds prior to her release at NamibRand

June 10: Shanti’s Whereabouts
To start with, I went out to look for Shanti this morning after seeing no signs of our new friend, the resident Leopard. I tracked her from the same place I did yesterday and her signal was even stronger than normal, so I went after her thinking she might be down on the plains or at least travelling in a river bed closer by. Either the signal was bouncing across mountains or she saw us and ran, the latter being the more probable. We walked and walked up and down hills until Paul and I were in the middle of the mountains dividing the Draaihoek and Moringa Valley areas. Here, the signal completely disappeared and even though we searched high and low for it, couldn’t pick it up again. By this time, we were pretty exhausted and on top of my coffee deficiency by this point, poor Paul was suffering with a mooi babelaas after his 21st birthday yesterday… We turned back to make another plan.

On the way back, I wanted to check on the wounded Oryx and seen if she was still around. As we slowly approached, the young calf ran from one bush to hide behind another, obviously shaken by our approach. This was unusual, because before it hasn’t been that bothered by us at all. Then we saw the tracks and the drag marks. The Leopard must have got her sometime last night and even though she was massive (she hadn’t been walking for awhile yet was still feeding regularly…) the Leopard had managed to drag her over 100m and was guarding his prize under a large bush. This is Nature’s way and although it’s easy to feel sorry for the calf, this is how things work. We left the obviously irritated Leopard in peace, and I’m just glad he did manage to eat as we had just walked past him (at a distance of course) to try and find Shanti…

I noticed on the map that Shanti may have used an old path to head into Moringa Valley and decided to drive around and see if I could catch up with her on the other side. Before I went, I took a quick look to see how the 5 males were doing and it looked as if they had wandered off into the Keerweder pan, probably on a hunting trip. Sure enough, they were across the main road and in the process stalking a pair of Zebra, much to the pleasure of a German man and his son who had been passing through at the right time. They were very respectful of the Cheetahs, remaining quiet and not getting out of their car to take picture so, I filled them in on the details of the project and we watched in amusement as they walked up to the two fully-grown Zebra. Suddenly, a young foal exploded from the grass in front of them, obviously the real attention of the boys. They took off after it, Kia in front with Lindt hot on his heels. All the Zebra had bolted but, turning on a dime, the two parents stopped to confront the Cheetahs. They may not always show signs of intelligence but I’m glad they did here and they decided to abandon the chase. They wandered out further into the pan, two very excited Germans continued their journey and I was off to Moringa Valley. The Zebras continued to eat the grass around them.

Shanti has definitely come out on the other side of the pass and although I probably could have found her, she was still up in the hills a little ways and the last thing I wanted to do was chase her back over the Mountains again. As I was trying to decide if I would walk any further, I had my mind made up for me when I realised I need to turn back as the Land Cruiser was needed by Mike and Ann this afternoon. I left her in peace again but the area she is in now is perfect. Nice and open with a lot of game. Plus, this area hasn’t seen any known Cheetah activity yet so, it may prove to be an easier hunting ground for her. Time will tell.

June 12: NamibRand: What to do about Shanti?
I’m a little worried about how much pressure to put on Shanti. Going out to try and get a better look at her yesterday, she disappeared again. We had been tracking her across the plains in the South-Eastern corner of Moringa Valley, and so as not to spook her, we stuck to the river beds and as much cover as possible. Still, when we must have been at least 1.5 – 1km away, the signal strengthened, weakened and then vanished as she ran over the hill. I’m just worried that by constantly chasing her, we’re putting too much strain and stress on her, and with that pressure she should be spending her time hunting as opposed to evading us.

I think I’ll just have to let her be for awhile again, only getting signal information from her. That said, I still don’t have any idea about her present condition which is the problem.

As far as our boys are concerned, life seems to be back to a normal “routine”. They were unsuccessful in the Keerweder Pan last night it seems and have since wandered into the veld just West of Boscia watering hole where they spent much of the day resting. It looks like they weren’t in a rush to get back to the pens for a change so hopefully they stay out overnight and catch something then.

Interestingly, I’ve noticed a huge increase on Leopard activity in the area. There’s the one still hanging around its kill site with the Oryx, we found tracks of a smaller, presumably female in the riverbeds of Moringa Valley as we tracked Shanti and there were more tracks of another large male walking up towards the Boscia watering hole as we searched for the boys. Apparently, this is the time of the year that they come down out of the mountains. I just hope our boys and girls have enough sense to remain wary.

On the map below for Shanti: Red: where she was roughly, Green: where she ran to roughly.

June 13: NamibRand Update
It seems like we have a slight problem with Shanti. Her position now is a critical one. I strongly believe that she is somewhere up in the mountains on the border of the Reserve. If so, she has two paths: one back into the Reserve of tough, high hills or, an easier one down through the valley on to farmland. And I think it’s the farm where our boys weren’t too welcome.

The boys seem well though, and I think they’ve managed to catch some smaller game again, possibly a young Springbok. I looked for a kill site but couldn’t find anything. It’s interesting to see that when they don’t kill something large, it looks like there is a hierarchical order as to who gets the most food. It’s just speculation but every time they come back full, but not too full, it’s easy to see that Lindt, Cadbury and Kia have usually eaten a lot, while Mushara looks a little bit less full and Ra appears to have had the least. He’s still eaten, but not nearly as much. I don’t think their digestion would be all that different, so who knows? It’s something I’d like to look at more in depth for sure.

Also, after coming back from tracking Shanti, I was rewarded with a sighting of a female leopard and her cub near a place called “Cheetah Rocks”. Thanks to Jeff from SDL for the tip-off! She looked very healthy and most definitely the one whose tracks we spotted the other day around here. I guess the really do come down out of the hills this time of the year. They disappeared too quickly for pictures unfortunately but maybe I’ll come across them again.

I’ll be in touch as soon as I learn more about Shanti but she’s in a very undesirable place at the moment. We’ll just have to see what we can do.

June 19: NamibRand Report
It’s good to be back in the Reserve and getting back to work. A few grey hairs later, and I think I may have finally got a fix on Shanti. The signal is weak but it is the first audible signal I’ve got since being back. I think she’s still in the Moringa Valley area and seems to be fairly settled there as even when I was up at CCF, that’s where the others found her each day. I’m extremely pleased she hasn’t yet ventured over the hills too far, and I’m going to continue to track her from a distance as not to push her at all. If the opportunity to get a sighting presents itself, I’ll take it but only with caution. She’s still too unstable to harass at the moment.

The males on the other hand, are still doing extremely well and since their last kill (Monday evening, presumably another young Zebra), have eaten again. This time I’m certain they’ve gone back to bigger game as the poor guys were so full last night they could barely move. Even today they hardly did a thing, opting to spend the day resting as opposed to doing anything that requires movement. This evening, they did manage to drag themselves around to the other side of the fence to say hi to Misty and Rosy.

June 21: NamibRand Update
I have no idea where Shanti is. After a massive search today all over the Moringa area (including climbing to the top of three VERY high peaks in different locations) we couldn’t get even the slightest of signals. I could even pick up all of the Boys and Girls from here, probably at a distance of nearly 15kms away. So, I think she’s possibly hiding deep in the rocks (obscuring the radio signal), her collar’s given up or she’s moved off into a completely different area. Where that may be is anyone’s guess… Luckily, the guys are doing some aerial tracking tomorrow and I’ve managed to convince them to go out and look for Shanti as well. I’ve got high hopes they’ll pick her up and I’ll be able to track her down from there.

The boys are still living the lazy life, having done very little today. Then again, they’re still pretty full and it is a Sunday so you can’t really blame them. They were starting to move back towards the Keerweder Pan as of this evening though, so perhaps they’ll go explore or even hunt again soon. I’m very happy with their condition. All five now look to be in prime condition, putting on a lot of weight and building muscle mass quickly. They really are doing great out here. They should slow down on their eating however; I don’t want them to grow out of their collars or anything!

Tomorrow will also be a big day, as we start building the trap cage to take back Misty and Rosy. It’s so much easier to release cheetahs than it is to (re)capture them but the plan looks good and I’m very confident we can have it built in a short time. I still need the measurements for the trap though, so the sooner I can get them the better!

That’s all for today. Hope everybody had a great weekend and if anyone has the score for the Lions vs. Springboks Game yesterday, please email me. Well, only if the Springboks won.

Note from Patricia: Misty and Rosy are coming back to CCF after they have done their job keeping the boys within the Reserve for nearly six months. Misty and Rosy are not eligible to be re-introduced into the wild mainly because of the long time they have been in captivity.

June 22: It’s strange to think, but actually there was very little seen in the way of cheetahs today. At least for me anyway. Then again, it’s been a strange day altogether. I saw the boys this morning and they were just hanging around the pens still, as usual. So, off Paul and I went to try and find Shanti. We got nothing along the main road again or in Moringa or around the Draaihoek area. So, back we went to try and prepare for building the Capture Boma.

It looks like all the materials we need are here and it should be no problem to build. We’ve even got a cage here so we won’t need one brought down from CCF, just the boxes. This is great news. If I can get it in place soon, and get Misty and Rosy to start getting accustomed to it before I go, they should be a lot less wary of it by the time it come to actually box them. The plan was to start building today but that’s when the rains started! In the middle of winter, and it was pouring down here for awhile. We had to postpone and instead, Corris and I went out looking for Shanti again. Still nothing after a couple of hours and I’m really starting to get frustrated and apprehensive. I’m certain she’s ok but I just want to know if she’s still in the Reserve or not… I now don’t think she’s crossed over the hills but instead may have travelled north along the edge of the hills. I really don’t know. Of course, the weather was so bad today as well; I highly doubt they got any aerial tracking done. I haven’t heard from Flo yet but I’m sure I would have by now if they’d found something.

On a happier note though, Mike and Ann had some friends over today and they went out for a drive this evening. I got a call from Mike on the radio as they found the males just on the other side of Dino Hill, tucking into a feast. Mike believes that it is another young Zebra, but I’ll need to wait until I’ve got the light in the morning to find out.

June 23: Apart from the kill the site I found that the boys had made the previous night (a Springbok ram), very little happened again yesterday. The 5 fought the cold, overcast weather while digesting next to the fence. I, on the other hand, once again spent the entire day searching for our long-lost Shanti. We’ve starting to run out of places to look so the plan for today is to sit everyone down and discuss our options. We’ll have to make a decision on what to do soon though I think, before she gets too far…

Last evening, I did manage to sit down with the group from the Indianapolis Zoo though. They were a good group and had lots of intelligent, challenging questions. I hopefully satisfied them on the behavioural and tracking science of things. All in all, a good evening. It’s a shame we never got out to see the cheetahs here but as they’re leaving this morning there just wasn’t time. They’ll get their fill up at CCF though. Today we’ll start construct, training and continue looking for our girl.

June 25: Last day in NamibRand!!! For this week anyway…
Ok! So this will probably be my last update for a while. I’ve got good news and bad news, unfortunately. Starting with the bad; all this week we’ve been trying to locate Shanti and still have had no luck. Today we’ve even just finished driving the entire length of the northern half of the Reserve at 20km/h while scanning to try and pick up a signal. Nothing at all. This means two things. Either her collar is malfunctioning or, more likely she’s out of range or out of the Reserve itself. We’ll definitely have to make a plan as to where we can go from here. Luckily, Selma seems quite willing to continue looking for her and the N/a’an ku sê guys have said they will also pitch in. I just hope someone picks up her signal soon…

The good news on the other hand, comes in two parts. First of all, Selma, the Polytechnic student, seems to be keen, able and a fast learner. I think she’ll be able to continue on with the data collection for the boys and with a little help from Paul, Mike & Ann, Flo and Corris; I’ve got high hopes that we won’t lose too much info on their behaviour. It will be tough for her for the first few days but I’ll be back up here next week sometime to box up Misty and Rosy and can help her out with anything she’s struggling with.

The next part of course is about Misty and Rosy. Rome may not have been built in a day but our boma was and I’m very pleased with the result. Not only is it well built and designed, before we had even left yesterday, both cats were wandering through back and forth between the two sections. There only means of crossing through now of course, is the trap cage. They don’t seem bothered at all by it and when I returned to feed them later on, they just ran straight through like nothing had changed. This is excellent and really helps to take some of the worry of all of our shoulders I’m sure. All we need now is the boxes (CCF), some rope (Corris) and we should be ready to go.

So, unless I manage to find Shanti this afternoon, this will be all from me for now. I leave for Cape Town tomorrow but should be back in Namibia sometime next week. Until then,

PS – And from Rob about the wild female: As has become typical, we are continuing to get very sparse data back from the female’s collar (see map), but her latest upload indicates she is now less than 1km from the nearest main road.

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