Saturday, 11 July 2009

Matt and Kate's NamibRand Adventure!

So here is a bit of background before I tell my tale of magical adventure far beyond the boundaries of CCF. NamibRand is a large nature reserve in southern Namibia where 5 of our male captive cats were released over a year ago, the release of this coalition was the subject of the infamous British documentary entitled ‘Cheetah Man’ which you may have seen recently on the world respected…….. Chanel 5. When the boys were first released they wandered beyond the reserve’s boundaries and strayed onto a neighbouring farm killing a prize winning breeding ram…..not good. So in an attempt to keep the boys in the reserve we sent two of our females down to act as bait. The girls in question were Rosy and Misty and their feminine charms worked a treat and they have kept the boy’s interest for many months. However, the boys have since become excellent hunters and should have learnt that they can make a good living by staying in the reserve. So it was time for Rosy and Misty to come home which required both cats to be placed into transport boxes, a task that requires people of great skill, experience and courage. Therefore myself and Kate were sent on our way to bring the girls home to CCF.

Hearing the news that BOTH of us were allowed to leave CCF at the same time and travel several 100kms away was very exiting!! It almost seemed too good to be true and we only truly believed it was happening the moment we drove past the final CCF gate and into Otjiwarongo. We had a good 10 hours of driving ahead us but despite the fact that we were late leaving CCF we still had to go to Kamel Dorn for breakfast and for me that meant having the best cheese burger in the world! After a hearty breakfast and stocking up with supplies for the trip we were finally on our way south to NamibRand complete with two cheetah boxes on the back of the bakkie. It also meant that Kate would have to spend American independence day (otherwise known as British generosity day) with an englishman. Most satisfying! ha ha :)
We successfully navigated our way across Namibia, taking turns to drive and arrived at NamibRand at 5.30pm where we were immediately greeted by our host James and his father. James has been monitoring the boys for over 6 months and had been looking after Rosy and Misty for us. Our accommodation was extremely nice and we couldn’t stop smiling as we stood outside and looked around at our surroundings, the view was breathtaking, vast open grassland with huge hills all around us. That evening was spent enjoying a couple of ciders and catching up with James who was a great host by cooking us up some tasty Oryx meat on the braii.

Our first full day in NamibRand began with saying hello to Rosy and Misty again and making a plan for how best to box them the following day. After that we went radio tracking in an attempt to find another of our cats that had been recently released in the reserve. Shanti and her sister Tisha were released together a couple of months ago and sadly Tisha was killed by a Spotted Hyena (we had also been tasked with bringing her body back to CCF). Shanti has proven to be a good hunter and has been surviving well on her own; however, James had been unable to locate her for over a week and was concerned. It is thought that the only reasons he can’t pick up a signal from her collar is that she may have strayed far beyond the reserve or her collar has broken due to an extreme drop in temperature. We searched for her all day but with no luck. James has since radio tracked in the air but was unsuccessful, so all we can do now is hope that she is out there somewhere enjoying life as a wild cheetah.

The morning of our second full day began with a meeting with the 5 boys who are now celebrities and part of CCF legend. One of the boys, Ra had recently had a fight with a leopard and had picked up some injuries. James wanted me and Kate to have a look and get our opinion. It took no time at all to find them as they were sat under a bush just 100 metres away from the house where we were staying. It was great to finally see them and they looked great. Ra still had a slight limp but didn’t appear in too bad a way.
The rest of the morning was spent looking for Shanti and exploring the reserve. The highlight was an area known as the ‘Waterfall’ which is tucked between two rock faces and is where, as the name suggests, a waterfall can be found. Being the dry season the waterfall itself wasn’t very spectacular but the surrounding area was an amazing place to be, full of huge boulders and crevices and myself and Kate had a great time climbing around and exploring. It was leopard paradise and we saw many tracks and even some blood on the rocks where one had recently made a kill. So in the spirit of the leopard we then climbed up a nearby tree and had our lunch. It was a FANTASTIC morning and one of the highlights of my time here in Namibia.
Thanks to Rosy and Misty however, the afternoon was completely different! The pen the two cats were in was not designed for boxing cheetahs so James and the NamibRand staff had done a great job in doing a quick build and had prepared a small holding area and put a trap cage in place (from previous experience we knew Rosy and Misty would not go straight into the box). Things started well enough, Rosy was tempted into the holding pen no problem and she walked straight into the trap cage where we then closed the guillotine and enclosed her inside. But this is where the fun began.

We placed the box at the end of the trap cage and in a lot of cases the cat just walks in, but not this time. If a cat does decide not to cooperate we can usually slide a panel across to force them in but this was a trap cage and not a squeeze cage so that was not an option. So then began an exhausting period of trying to persuade Rosy into the box, we tried tempting her with meat, poking her with sticks, chucking water over her and making loud noises at her. None of which worked and was horrible to do as the last thing we wanted to do was stress her out. Finally she placed half of her body into the box, I slowly slid down the door until it was resting on her back and with some more poking with sticks her backside disappeared into the box and I quickly slid the door down the rest of the way. We were all extremely relieved!

By now the sun was getting very low in the sky and we thought we’d at least get Misty into the small holding area, but no, Misty decided to hide under a bush and was not coming out. So we were left with no option but to abandon our efforts for the day and try again first thing in the morning. So we got up just before the sunrise and headed over to the pen praying that Misty would be kind and just walk in the box, we really didn’t want to leave that morning with only one cat! Thankfully things went much more smoothly, she didn’t walk in but we had her in the box within 20 minutes. With mission accomplished it was sadly time to load up the boxes onto the bakkie and leave, we would have gladly stayed for much longer but we had to get Rosy and Misty back home as soon as possible, they had a long drive ahead of them.

We took a different route on the way back as it involved less gravel roads and would therefore be a slightly more pleasant ride for the cats. The route also took us high up on a plateau that provided yet more stunning views. Driving with two cheetahs on the back of our car guarantied we turned a few heads and we received plenty a strange look, especially when we had to stop of at a bottle store and buy a large quantity of ice to keep the body of a dead cheetah cool that we had with us in the back seat! We arrived back at CCF about 7.30pm and the ice thankfully did the job and we didn’t suffer a stinky ride. We had to leave the poor cats locked up in the barn over night and needless to say they looked very happy when we did let them out of the boxes the following morning! So Rosy and Misty are back home and doing well, time will tell how the other Bellebenno girls will react when they meet up with their old pen mates again, there could be some very interesting battles for dominance!

In conclusion me and Kate had a flippin amazing time and can’t wait till we can go back!!