Winter 2015 – Notes from the FieldNotes from the Field
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In this Issue: Photo Favorite | Truck Donation and New Shoes | Zinzi: Teetering on the Brink | Cheetah Mobile Partnership | Awards Season | International Cheetah Day | 25th Anniversary Tour | Guess the Species
Photo Favorite – Look familiar? Take a glimpse at the newly designed International Cheetah Day logo below. Our volunteer logo designer Tara Niederhaus sites this iconic cheetah pose as the inspiration for her design. Photo by Suzi Eszterhas.
Back in the late 1970’s when I was working at Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon, I had a cheetah named Khayam. She was my first cheetah, and for those of you who know me, you are aware of how special this cat was. Because of Khayam, I was inspired to ask if captive-born cheetahs could be taught to hunt. The desire to test this hypothesis led to my first trip to Namibia (with Khayam in tow). I thought if I could teach Khayam to hunt and prove the hypothesis to be a fact, this would positively impact species odds for survival.
While this was not an easy task, we were successful, and yes, we did later return to Oregon together. But this discovery has been an important foundation in the re-wilding work we continue to do at CCF through this day, and because of Khayam I have relocated to Namibia and dedicated my life to saving the cheetah.
December 4th was Khayam’s birthday, and though she has long since passed, I remember her clearly in my heart. I chose December 4th as International Cheetah Day to honor Khayam, who by living did so very much for her species’ survival.
Please join me and other cheetah friends in celebrating International Cheetah Day by posting your best wishes to social media on December 4th using the hashtags #IntlCheetahDay and #SaveTheCheetah. Use our Tweet Sheet to join in the Twitter Storm! We are asking that you help us make International Cheetah Day a trending topic for December 4th and it’s so easy! Simply login to your Twitter account and open the Tweet Sheet link above. There you will find a list of tweets already composed. All you have to do is click the word TWEET in the right hand column.
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Zinzi: Teetering on the Brink of Success
In 2009, Zinzi, a young female cheetah was captured by a farmer in the Karibib region of Namibia and came to live at CCF. Because she had the desired qualities we look for in a cheetah that is a candidate for re-wilding (being orphaned at age six months or older, having a solid fear of humans), we decided Zinzi was a great candidate for release back into the wild.
The long process began by placing Zinzi in our 200-acre Bellebeno camp, a large enclosure that houses other female cheetahs of similar age and temperament. Zinzi spent nearly three years in Bellebeno. She had limited contact with humans, but was exercised daily, running to keep pace with the food truck that delivered her dinner. When we determined Zinzi was ready to be on her own, we released her in June of 2014 onto our Bellebeno 8000 acre camp. She shot out of the transfer box like a cannonball, her enthusiasm giving us high hopes for her ability to adapt to her new environment.
It was a long time before we saw Zinzi again. We knew she was okay because we were tracking her movements with a GPS collar, and our research team would come across remains of kills she left behind. Normally, a cheetah that was just released would be regularly monitored by the team and receive assistance in the form of supplemental feeding and watering if needed, especially during the first critical month of release. But Zinzi never needed our help.
Few criteria have been established to define the success of such releases. But our goal for rehabilitation of Zinzi was to have her contribute to the cheetah population through reproduction, which is one of the criteria for rehabilitation success. So when we noticed data from Zinzi’s satellite collar that indicated she may have given birth in Sept. of 2015, we were very excited. Then, on Nov. 1, we were ecstatic when the research team checked Zinzi’s nest seeing four new cubs and setting a camera trap, to see more closely behaviour between a female and her young cubs at a den site.
Rehabilitation success revolves around reproduction and survival. Therefore, we consider Zinzi’s rehabilitation to be a success, so far.
To date, Zinzi has raised these four cubs entirely on her own, which is a feat in itself (cheetah cub mortality is highest under three months of age). But before we shout it from the hilltops, there is over a year before these young cubs will be able to care for themselves (cubs usually leave their moms between 18 – 22 months of age. Zinzi most certainly will face numerous challenges in the months to come, but she is well on her way to becoming a cheetah Supermom. If her history over the last 18 months is any indication of her future, her chances for success are very good indeed!
Our Thanks to a Dear Friend
Dr. Stephen J. O’Brien, CCF USA Board Chair, 2005-2015
Dr. O’Brien is recognized internationally as a molecular biologist, genome bioinformatician, university professor and dedicated conservationist who uses the tools of his research to help protect endangered species like the cheetah. He is considered a ‘National Treasure’ by the U.S. scientific community and by his CCF family.
Dr. O’Brien recently stepped down from his role as CCF USA Board Chair after a long and successful run. He will continue to remain on the CCF Board of Directors, helping with strategic planning as CCF continues into its mission to save the cheetah. Dr. O’Brien has worked with Dr. Marker on cheetah research projects since 1982, when they documented the remarkable genetic uniformity of African cheetahs. On the 8th of December their collaborative paper on sequencing the cheetah genome will be published. Keep your eyes out for this important on-going cheetah research.
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LONE SURVIVOR UPDATE: Herkül is Living Up to His Name
Back in early August, one of CCF’s Scat Detection Dogs, Isha, went into labor. But it was a complicated birth, and a C-section was performed. Out of Isha’s four puppies, only one survived, a tiny male. A few weeks later, we asked for your help naming this lone survivor, and the name chosen by popular vote was Hercules, or Herkül in the traditional Turkish spelling.
Well, that was almost four months ago and I am happy to report that little Hercules is living up to his name! No longer can he be described as little – Hercules now weighs in at 40 pounds and is growing up
to be a big, strong dog.
Because of the nature of his birth and being a lone survivor, Hercules will not become a working livestock guarding dog, but rather he will serve as an ambassador for the program. My assistant Tess Robitschko, is helping me raise him. Hercules is being groomed to be an ambassador (spokes) dog and our staff and visitors are greeted by him regularly. Tess takes numerous photos of Hercules, and posts them regularly (he is a bit of a ham around the camera). We are so glad that Hercules is growing into his new role so well.
When Hercules is a little bit older, he may travel with our community outreach team to rural farming communities, helping inform people about our Livestock Guarding Dog Program. But will be introduced to people at our CCF Education Centre regularly.
In November, Cheetah Mobile sent a six-person film crew to Namibia to capture CCF’s story in a documentary. A 15-minute program will be distributed online with the possibility of a longer film to share with regional film festivals. Led by producer/director Martin Rossetti, the crew shot at CCF, Erindi Game Reserve, and the capital city of Windhoek. While at CCF they joined me at a town meeting in Otjiwarongo where they were able to record a meeting between myself and Namibian President, H.E. Dr. Hage Geingob. I have known our new President for 25 ears and he has followed CCF’s work from his time as Prime Minister, to minister of Trade and Industry until now. So this was an extra-exciting moment!
While at CCF, they also traveled to several neighboring farms to interview people working there to illustrate how CCF’s programs work. Working on this documentary for three weeks was a bonding process between our staff and this talented crew from the US, Namibia and Taiwan. The yet-to-be-titled film is expected to make its premiere sometime next spring.
In July, our marketing partnership officially launched with a 10-second Public Service Announcement (PSA) featured on an outdoor video screen in New York City’s Times Square supported by Cheetah Mobile. This gave us the amazing opportunity to get our message out to a potential audience of 1.5 million people who passed by the billboard daily. The CCF spot ran once almost every hour through the end of September.
The opportunity to have a video billboard in Times Square, the crossroads of the world, seemed like a perfect platform for our international message. Cheetah Mobile also produced a 30-second PSA that appeared on the Jumbotron at this year’s NASCAR Brickyard Race and sponsored CCF’s participation in Save Our Wildlife, a media campaign appearing in a special supplement tucked inside USA Today’s Sept. 14 weekend edition. We are grateful to Cheetah Mobile for sponsoring these opportunities, because without them none of this would have been possible.
Cheetah Mobile sponsored this video billboard in Times Square, making traditional outdoor marketing available to CCF for the first time.
Oct. 2 during a private ceremony at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana, I accepted the Edward O. Wilson Biodiversity Technology Pioneer Award from one of my personal heroes, Dr. E.O. Wilson. Dr. Wilson is arguably one of the most respected and trusted scientists in the world, known as the father of biodiversity, and is the recipient of many scientific and conservation awards himself. He presented me with this award, and getting to meet him is one of the highlights of my career. I was honoured when he told the crowd at the university during the ceremony that “the world needs more Laurie Markers” This made me so proud of all our interns and students over the years that I have mentored and know that so many of them are in the forefront of conservation today!
On Oct. 18, I was recognized with an Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal Award by The Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill in Hyde Park, New York. The medal is given annually to those who have made significant contributions in areas that were the focus of Eleanor Roosevelt’s public life, such as education, advocacy, social justice, public service and human rights. Given that Eleanor Roosevelt is truly one of the greatest women to have lived during the 21st century, I felt exceptionally honored to be included in this year’s group of recipients being recognized for the work we do with people in order to help save the cheetah.
During the annual meeting of my colleagues at the IUCN Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG), they announced that I was the recipient of this year’s Ulysses S. Seal Award for Innovation in Conservation. The meeting was held in mid-October in the United Arab Emirates, and unfortunately, I was unable to attend because I was on tour in the U.S.. The award, named for one of my mentors, and a man who worked closely with a few of us in the 1980’s to develop our global long-term strategy for cheetah conservation, was a distinguished biochemist who made preservation of the planet’s biodiversity his life’s work.This award is given annually to the person who “exemplifies innovation in the application of science to conservation.”
The late Dr. Seal was intensively involved with endangered species conservation, founding the International Species Information System, a global, central database that provides computerized animal management for more than 500 zoological institutions worldwide, and the founder of the CBSG, which works with field biologists and governments to develop conservation plans. Ulie was not only a mentor, but a friend, and I, along with those he took under his wing and taught, miss him dearly.
The news of all three awards really caught me off guard. I did not even know I was nominated when I received news I had won. I am deeply appreciative to these institutions and to the people who nominated me. I believe awards are a direct reflection of the quality of individuals and organizations that have supported myself and CCF throughout my career; without them, there would not be any contributions worth recognizing. My thanks to you all.
The visitors included H.E. Mrs. Deniz Cakar, Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey; Mrs. Keman Ozdemir, Head of TIKA Africa and Middle East Countries; Mr. Cüneyt Esmer, TIKA Namibia Country Director; and members of the Turkish media. After having lunch with CCF staff, we treated them to a demonstration of the Livestock Guarding Dog Program and a tour of our Field Research and Education Centre and Cheetah Sanctuary.
Since 1994, we have bred, trained and placed Kangal dogs and Anatolian shepherds with farmers to guard small stock on farmlands. The dogs serve as a buffer between farm animals and predators like the cheetah. I selected these two breeds because of their history of success guarding livestock in Turkey, a country with a terrain and climate similar to Namibia, and for their large size, loud bark, independent and protective nature.
TIKA was established in 1992 to serve as an implementing intermediary of Turkish foreign policy. The agency supports projects on five continents in 120 countries. Mr. Cüneyt Esmer, TIKA Namibia Country Director, (photographed above giving me the keys) said that his agency provides assistance wherever in the world it is needed, but is especially pleased to support efforts that feature aspects of Turkish culture.
We are very excited to be recognized by TIKA and grateful to receive this new truck. Between delivering puppies to farmers, conducting health check-ups and administering veterinary care, our staff is on the road daily. This will help us better keep up with the demand for our dogs and their ongoing care.
All of the lab equipment has been transferred to the new location (much of which required disassembling and reassembling, no small task), and has been recalibrated. Projects that were placed on hold during the move will resume, and new projects are set to begin.
By making the lab more accessible to visitors, we hope to inspire the next generation of African research scientists, which will make our efforts in Namibia sustainable over the long term. The lab is directed by Dr. Anne Schmidt-Küntzel with help from lab manager Katrin Hils, and Lucia Mhuulu who, in July, was awarded her Master’s degree at the University of Namibia for her work at CCF with DNA extraction of cheetah scat found at play trees by our detection dogs, and linking this to photos on camera traps. Currently, CCF has two interns, one from Zambia and the other from Zimbabwe.
The objective of the workshop was to provide current information to update the cheetah and wild dog regional strategy which was developed in 2007 and to develop a three-year SAFE Cheetah Conservation Action Plan.
Through a variety of presentations and discussions covering topics that included human wildlife conflict, the reduction of the ranges of each of these species, and ongoing research by the various NGO’s to reduce these threats to the cheetah and wild dog. The various country groups shared ideas on how to address these threats. Dr. Schmidt-Küntzel and I gave a presentation that covered successful strategies employed by CCF impacting the region, including education, livestock guarding dogs, the production of Bushblok, and training of both rural residents and the next generation of conservationists, biologists and geneticists.
After the 2007 range wide strategy meeting, CCF was tasked to train several hundred government and NGO conservation biologists from 15 different cheetah range countries and many of them were at the meeting from Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. This has been one of our biggest contributions to range-wide strategic development, and of this we can all be very proud.
Following the meeting, a small group from the workshop came back with me to CCF and stayed for the weekend. This was a great opportunity to strengthen our relationship and give them insight to the work we do here in Namibia.
Dr. Mark Penning, Director of Animal and Science Operations for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Joel Merriman, SAFE Conservation Action Planning Director and Debborah Luke, AZA Senior Vice President of Conservation & Science, with Dr. Marker and Brian Badger at CCF.
Tracking Carnivores with Your Phone
On August 30, In association with the Large Carnivore Management Association of Namibia (LCMAN – an organization that I currently Chair), CCF debuted a new application for mobile devices that enables members of the scientific community, farmers, tourists and local residents to identify and report sightings of carnivore species in Namibia. The distribution data gathered with this app, known as Carnivore Tracker, will help provide data on Namibia’s wild ranging carnivores and will assist the government in national wildlife conservation strategies.
CCF’s Ecology Manager Dr. Louisa Richmond-Coggan worked with software developer and CCF volunteer Steven Lambright to develop the app. The brilliant part about Carnivore Tracker is that it enables just about anyone with a mobile telephone to become a scientific research assistant. This greatly expands the size of our survey areas and also helps in speeding up data collection and analyses.
The type of information collected through Carnivore Tracker includes identification of the species sighted, number of individuals and the GPS location, even if outside network and Wi-Fi coverage areas. Each carnivore species has a photographic icon for easy identification and a brief description of its ecology and status. Now Namibian residents can report what they see on a regular basis, and tourists on holiday just passing through can report animals they encounter during their travels.
We are also excited to see how Carnivore Tracker can be used by farmers to help reduce the number of farm animals lost to predators, particularly during this year’s calving season, which has just begun.
Carnivore Tracker can be downloaded free of charge and is available for both Apple and Android devices. Every three months, users will receive an update on carnivores that have been recorded across Namibia, which will include a map so users can identify how their sightings have contributed.
Just as in other parts of the world, “football” is the most popular sport in Namibia. Employees of CCF’s model farm have fielded a team that plays with teams representing neighboring farms. It’s a casual league. No uniforms or electronic scoreboards, but the games provide fun and unity and are a high point of the workers’ day.
Imagine the surprise and delight of our team when they received soccer shoes, or “football boots,” from a most unlikely source: Finnish first-graders. A school on the west coast of Finland named Koivuhaan Koulu received the football boots that were donated by a local football team. Rather than distribute them locally, the students and their teacher, Joonas Väisänen, decided to send them to Namibia with a classmate who planned to visit with her family. Their goal was to help support rural people in Namibia to develop a shared love for the game they enjoyed playing so much themselves.
As you can see from the photo, our CCF soccer players are very pleased with their new gear, and the school kids in Finland are thrilled to learn the boots’ new owners are already putting them to good use.
They even had an animal at the event! Argo the Anatolian Shepherd from my dear friend Donna Erickson made a visit to represent the livestock guarding dogs that CCF raise. I heard that the event went without a hitch as cheetah lovers danced the night away.
Paul & Eddie’s team as well as the Cupertino Animal Hospital staff went above and beyond! A huge thank you to all who contributed to make this event happen and to everybody who showed up to celebrate for cheetahs!
I began my six-week tour in Northern California with our first cheetah fundraiser at the Savannah Chanelle Winery in Saratoga. It was a lovely kick-off event celebrating our anniversary with a VIP wine tasting, a lecture assisted by cheetah ambassador, Themba, from the Wild Cat Education and Conservation Fund and a silent auction supported by 95 guests from the Bay Area.
In September, I had the pleasure of attending both the AZA and Zoo Association Conservation Conference (ZACC) zoological conferences in Utah and Colorado. At AZA, I gave a lecture about International Cheetah Day and how zoo partners can participate in raising public awareness for the cheetah. My lecture in Denver described how our work in biofuels and goat cheese can save cheetahs = and lead to sustainable development. We also had the opportunity to boost awareness at each conference with CCF information booths manned by our staff and local volunteers. I want to thank everyone for their kind support in helping us further our mission at these important zoo conferences.
During my stay in Northern California I had the opportunity to address audiences at Safari West, UC Santa Cruz and Cal Polytechnic University. And, it was a pleasure to see all my conservation colleagues and meet people passionate about saving our planet at the annual Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN) Expo of which we are one of the original Fellows of this organization. I also did several book signings with Suzi Eszterhas and my book A Future for Cheetahs.
In Southern California, I had the wonderful experience of being hosted at the La Jolla Country Club by members of The Charter One Hundred group. CCF Ambassador Jordan Sack of Jordan Art Couture arranged the special luncheon event highlighting CCF’s past 25 years of cheetah conservation.
On the other side of the country, CCF Trustee Christine Osekoski arranged a special ladies’ dinner with the Eleven Charity members at the Gander Restaurant in New York City featuring Iron Chef Jesse Schender. It was exciting to meet new cheetah supporters on the east and west coasts and to spread the message of cheetah conservation.
I also had the opportunity to see many cheetah friends that I have not seen in years and make some new ones at luncheon and dinner events hosted by CCF Board members and supporters in Seattle, St. Louis, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Denver. I had a great time visiting everyone and reconnecting.
It was a delight to have four 25th anniversary ambassador cheetah events and galas on this tour to help raise critical operating funds for CCF. All of the events where well attended and contributed greatly to the cause.
The first gala was CCF’s annual Big Cat. Big Party. in Portland organized by CCF’s Oregon Chapter lead by Chapter Chair Laura Harris. It was held once again at the Oregon Zoo with dinner committees generously hosting tables and attendees purchasing live and silent auction items contributed by supporters including Howard Hedinger and the Greater Portland business community and several of my international veterinary research collaborators who happened to be in Oregon at the same time. Local animal celebrity duo Pancake, a cheetah cub, and her best canine friend, Dayo, of Wildlife Safari made an appearance to liven up the evening. I must say they were quite a big hit!
Following closely on the heels of this event, I flew to the East Coast for a private event in Poughkeepsie, New York, hosted by CCF Trustee Paola Bari and Jeff Aman and CCF’s New York Chapter at the residence of Theodora and Roy Budnik. This was an exciting evening with added support from the Columbus Zoo and ambassador cheetah BiBi. It was delightful to introduce CCF to over 70 new cheetah friends from the local area. From upstate New York, I traveled to New York City to give an anniversary dinner and lecture at the Explorers Club on October 20th. It was great to see all our cheetah friends in the city and to have the added support of the New York CCF Chapter and CCF Trustee Richard Wiese of ABC Television’s Born to Explore, who introduced me. The Leo Zoo was prepared to bring their ambassador cheetah Adaeze to the Explorers Club, but due to last minute permitting issues, we had to cancel the VIP cheetah portion of the program. We will try to make this happen next year.
My last stop before returning to Namibia was in Washington, DC, where we held CCF’s Annual Board meeting at the Cosmos Club. It was well-attended with many members flying in from all parts of the country. After 10 years of passionate dedication and commitment, it was an exceptionally touching moment as Dr. Stephen O’Brien stepped into his new role as CCF Chairman Emeritus after 10 years as CCF Board Chair and passed the baton to CCF Board Member, Woodrow Garmon of Houston, Texas. We presented Dr. O’Brien with an engraved bronze cheetah for his many years of service.
It was a distinct pleasure to see everyone supporting CCF and participating in the annual DC Gala at the law offices of Foley & Lardner which overlook the Potomac in Georgetown. CCF DC Chapter members and volunteers did a wonderful job coordinating the event, together with the continued support of CCF Trustee Suzi Rapp from the Columbus Zoo. This year, Suzi brought her ambassador cheetah Zemba. CCF Ambassador Sally Davidson kindly catered the DC Gala again this year, with delicious food provided by 1789 Restaurant. Approximately 200 guests were in attendance.
I must send a special thanks to my colleagues in conservation and cheetah science who came together and joined me at The National Zoo for a public cheetah seminar to mark CCF’s 25th anniversary. I am grateful to everyone who traveled many miles to participate in Oct. 21 event: Dr. Stephen O’Brien; Dr. Bruce Brewer, CCF’s General Manager; Dr. Suzan Murray, Dr. Adrienne Crosier, Dr. Pierre Comizzoli, and Dr. Warren Johnson from Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Smithsonian’s Conservation and Biology Institute (SCBI); Dr. Debborah Luke of AZA; Mary Wykstra of Action for Cheetahs in Kenya; and Suzi Rapp and Wouter Stellaard from the Columbus Zoo. A big cheetah thanks to CCF Trustee Gary Kopff and Judy Kopff for helping organize the event and hosting a lunch meeting for the group at their Cleveland Park home.
I am so very grateful to have the type of support over these 25 years that makes all of our educational events and fundraising opportunities possible. I look forward to continuing to work together to further the CCF mission in coming year.