Saturday, June 15, 2013

Rarely Seen Creatures and Cheetah Run

Greetings All,
Sorry to hear about all the rain back home.  In Namibia it's dry as a bone -  the summer rains never came and the waterholes are drying up fast.  I hope the animals can survive the dry season and that the rains come in October.  Here at CCF water is pumped from a well called a bore hole but we have to conserve as much as possible.

Our duties and experiences continue to evolve.  One evening we visited another CCF farm called Cheetah View where two scientists, one from Israel and one from SUNY were studying air flow in a termite mound.  They invited us out to watch an experiment they had devised in a lizard burrow to test their model.   A green laser was set up to project horizontally across the burrow and a red pencil laser pointed straight down into the burrow. Smoke was blown into the 45 cm deep hole and it was lit up by the lasers revealing how the air flowed out of the hole.  Green swirls were formed showing the turbulent nature of the air near the entrance to the burrow.

Swirling air at the Entrance to a Lizard Burrow

I'm sure most of you are wondering who cares about air flow in a termite mound? The scientists hope that the same principals can be applied to buildings to improve ventilation.  I'm not sure how practical this information is but it sure made for a cool laser light show.

Part of our duties at CCF is to conduct game counts to assess the availability of prey species in order to develop management strategies.  We drove along a select route noting the number of animals seen at a given location.  We were seeing plenty of oryx, steenbok, warthogs and then an unexpected surprise, an aardvark!  What a crazy looking creature with the ears of a donkey, the snout of a pig and the tail of  a rat.


The aardvark is a nocturnal, burrowing mammal that feeds almost exclusively on ants and termites. It's name means earth or ground pig in the Afrikaans language due to it's burrowing habits.  Marc caught a glimpse of another one on our third game count before it disappeared down its burrow.

On our third game count we encountered another rarely seen animal, an aardwolf!  This is the first aardwolf we've seen on all our trips to Africa.  The aardwolf is in the same family as hyenas but unlike it's carnivorous relatives, the aardwolf eats insects, mainly termites.  It's name means earth wolf in the Afrikaans language.


It is CCF's mission to get cheetahs back into the wild if possible.  However, there are circumstances that make this impossible.  Nearly three years ago a farmer shot a female cheetah and took her four 3-week old cubs.  They were later confiscated and brought to CCF.  The decision was made to hand rear them and make them ambassadors for their species.  We got the opportunity for a "Meet and Greet" with these beautiful cats.  In the presence of their handlers we were able to get close to the cheetahs and hear their rumbling purrs.   Yes, cheetah purr like overgrown house cats.  We were able to take photos next to the cheetahs.

Peggy with Peter, one of the Ambassadors

Since the Ambassadors were orphaned at such a young age there was no choice but to hand rear them.  Because they are so tame, blood and vaginal swabs can be done without anesthetizing the cats.  This causes less stress to the cheetahs and allows for genetic and cytology studies. In addition, if farmers can get up close to a cheetah and see how magnificent they are, they may be less likely to shoot them.

Peter, One of the Ambassadors

Yesterday morning we got to participate on a "Cheetah Run".  CCF regularly exercises some of their cheetahs for physical exercise but more importantly for mental stimulation.  A set-up similar to the one used to run greyhounds is used.  It consists of rag lure on a rope that is propelled around the field by a battery-operated motor.  The speed and direction of the lure is controlled by a switch.

Peggy holding the Switch of the 'Cheetah run" Set-up

Cheetahs are built for speed making them the fastest land mammal reaching speeds of up to 70 mph!    They have a large heart and lungs to rapidly get oxygen to their muscles. They are lean and have a flexible spine.  When they are at full speed their back legs surpass their front.

"Cheetah Run"

Their long muscular tail acts like a rudder and aids in balance.

One of the Ambassadors Chasing a Lure

Unlike most other cats their claws are semi-retractable.  They provide traction and act like cleats on a runner's shoes.

World's Fastest Land Mammal

They catch their quarry in a cloud of dust with claws extended and teeth bared.


After all the fun and games it was time to feed the cheetahs.  We had to travel to another CCF farm called Bellebeno to feed 12 cheetahs that are kept in a more wild setting in the hopes that they will be able to be released one day.

Bellebeno Cheetah

As we drove into their 64 hectare enclosure, the cheetahs followed us to their feeding pens.

Lunchtime at Bellebeno

It's hard to believe our stay at CCF is almost half over.  Stay tuned for more stories from our next two weeks at CCF.
We hope all is well back home.
Peggy and Marc

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