N’Dunge, or Smartman as he was known by his keepers here at the Cheetah Conservation Fund first arrived in 2008 with his brother Shunge or Blondeman after being found in the Gobabis region without a mother. He was approximately three months old when he arrived and was cared for by Dr. Laurie Marker and Dr. Bruce Brewer in the nursery. The brothers were initially very scared and missing their mother. Luckily, another cheetah named Little C was only about six months older than them and he quickly took them under his wing and taught them about life at CCF, allowing them to settle in nicely to their new home. Along with another male named Ron, the four males formed a strong coalition group, and lived together for most of their lives here at the centre.
When N’Dunge first arrived at CCF, he very quickly picked up our routines and schedules, especially around feeding. We feed our resident cheetahs from bowls, so that they are not ingesting too much sand or dirt with their meat. And being picky eaters, cheetahs naturally prefer to keep their meat clean and off the ground. For some of our younger cubs or more wild residents, it can take some time for them to learn how to eat in the bowl. But not N’Dunge. He picked it up almost immediately, which is how he earned his nickname of Smartman – he was very smart! Although his “smarts” also had its drawbacks, as he could be very stubborn if he did not want to do something for us. He knew if he held out long enough, his keepers would give him extra treats as a reward and would wait until the last possible second. Luckily, he was very food motivated, and was a pretty easy cat to work with as long as there was food involved. N’Dunge never loved exercising though, and would much rather walk around the enclosure sniffing and marking on every tree rather than chasing our mechanical lure we use to run the cats. He and his brother would call as loudly as they could, letting the females in the area know how beautiful they were. Their calls were so loud we could often hear them up in our cheetah office, and it always put a smile on our faces hearing them trying to flirt with the females.
Being 13 years old, N’Dunge was considered one of our more elderly cheetahs. In the last year, he had started to show his older age. In April 2020, we noticed he was having some trouble walking, especially in his back end. An MRI scan done in Windhoek didn’t show anything conclusive as to the cause. But he was still always eager for food and acting his normal self other than being a bit wobbly on his feet occasionally. He also suffered from long term gastritis and stomach issues, which we were able to manage and treat using medication and by giving him a special diet of mince meat every day. Unfortunately, these problems were not curable, and his age eventually did catch up to him. Even feeding him as much as he would eat, he was losing weight and condition, and his personality became subdued and quiet. In order to prevent any unnecessary suffering for N’Dunge, the difficult decision was made by Dr. Laurie, the veterinary team and the cheetah team that it would be best to say goodbye and to euthanize him.
N’Dunge was an amazing cat to work with, and was an amazing ambassador for his species. He will be greatly missed by not only the team at CCF, but also by the many people whose lives he touched in his time with us.