Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Bellebenno Release, Part 3: Natural Born Killers

Would it continue? Well I am sat writing this blog entry 79 days after Chanel made her first kill and since then the girls have been on what can only be described as a killing rampage! The total to date consists of: 5 Oryx, 2 Warthog, 3 Kudu, 4 Steenbok, 4 Duiker, 1 Scrub Hare, 3 Red Hartebeest and 29 Eland calves.

The girls have been followed every day and what we have seen and learned has been fascinating. Chanel has continued to be the group leader and main hunter. Whenever Chanel moves, the others follow, and when on the hunt she is the one who is focused on finding prey, she even stands up on termite mounds to get a better view of her surroundings.
Nestle and Toblerone have also made kills of their own, whilst Hershey helps bring the prey down but has yet to do the killing. However, she does have the very important role of the ‘can opener’ and is the first to open up the carcass, allowing the others to start eating. Chanel has yet to learn this skill and demonstrates how staying together has been a huge advantage for the girls with each having a role in surviving.

The fact they have stayed together is one of the extremely interesting outcomes of this project. It appears females who have lived together for many years in captivity will stay together if released into larger areas, completely going against what wild females would do. Whenever the girls do get separated for a little while (after a failed chase or walking through dense bush) they will start frantically calling for each other, especially Nestle who appears to be at the bottom of the hierarchy. This strong separation anxiety is something you usually only see in a close coalition of males or a mother and her cubs.

Throughout the past 86 days myself and Kate have taken turns being out in the bush and we have both loved being with the girls and seeing them live as wild cheetahs. My experiences in the bush have definitely been a major highlight of my two plus years here at CCF. One evening Ryan and myself were walking with the girls through the bush with the sun setting spectacularly over the African bush, it was a magical moment and one where I had to pinch myself to realise where I was and what I was doing.

Another highlight included running behind the girls who were in chase of a group of Warthogs, it was a frantic couple of minutes with cheetahs and warthogs running all around me. The cats ended up catching a piglet before having to drop it due to a ferocious charge by the piglet’s mother! Warthogs are tough opponents and the girls do not go after them that often. Also the sight of three cheetahs (the Chocs) chasing a group of Giraffe was another sight you don’t see every day. Chanel was being smart and chasing Eland instead!

When this project first got under way our biggest fear was that the cats would simply find a way through the game fence and venture onto our neighbours land with the possible scenario of them coming into contact with livestock…….NOT good.
And if I had written this blog last week I would be telling you that we had had complete success with keeping the cats in. However, on Monday morning I was awoken at 6.20am by Ryan calling from the bush to inform me that Toblerone had escaped! We had always known that this was a possibility and had a emergency action plan in place for such an occurrence. So myself, Kate, James, vet Anais and vet tech Rosie were soon on our way to Bellebenno with a transport box, darting equipment and a horse leg. When we arrived we met up with the tracking team of Ryan and one of other student interns Aymeric. They had found Chanel, Hershey and Nestle calmly sat by the side of the road with Toblerone pacing up and down on the other side of the fence frantically calling to them trying to find a way back in. This was good news as we could go about tempting her back in the camp with the horse leg rather than having to dart her. We removed one of the swing gates and tried to tempt Toblerone to come through but despite being extremely interested in the leg she was too nervous to enter. James then cut the wire directly above the gate making the hole for her to enter much larger but despite my efforts waving the leg in front of her she still would not come back in.

We would not be outsmarted however and by tying the leg to some string we carried out a bit of cheetah 'fishing'. We stood further back and chucked the leg by the gate. Slowly but surely Toblerone inched forward in pursuit of the moving leg until she was fully through the fence. I then quickly ran behind her and blocked the exit and gave a huge sigh of relief. We then chucked the girls the horse leg and all four ran of into the bush with their prize. James fixed the fence and swing gate and the drama was over. It remains a bit of a mystery how she escaped as all the swing gates were in place and no obvious holes found. Hopefully, her uncomfortable experience being separated from the others will mean that however she did it, she won’t try it again!
So apart from this week’s drama the swing gates for these cats have worked, Hershey was even seen chasing a warthog that ran through one but she brought herself to a complete stop when the gate closed behind it and she didn’t try and follow. Many years in captivity in this instance appears to have limited the girls desire to investigate weakness' in the fence.

It has to be said that all members of the tracking team performed admirably, all except one……..Jetson. He let the good name of Land Rover down and despite having a few ‘quirks’ at the start of the project earning him some affection he soon underwent as series of consistent breakdowns and is now sat in the barn looking very sorry for himself.

Student interns Ryan and Aymeric deserve a huge pat on the back for their work and if you follow this link:

you will be directed to the official CCF blog where the guys posted numerous updates about the release. However, I just can’t help but embarrass them a little (Aymeric is French after all). You see, on their first day of tracking unsupervised we got a call and had to go and rescue the pair as Aymeric had somehow managed to drive into the only hole on the Bellebenno roads, this picture speaks for itself:

So what now? Well I can’t go into too much detail just yet but the girls will hopefully have a new home in the very near future, a home of similar size to Bellebenno where they can continue to live life hunting for themselves. We can then place new cats into the camp and start the process again. I will of course post an update as soon as anything happens.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

The Bellebenno Release, Part 2: First Blood

With the gates now open and a delicious looking Oryx right in front of them, Chanel, Hershey and Toblerone walked slowly out and followed the car to the shady area chosen to drop the carcass. Chanel led the way and was extremely keen to get to her meal and helped drag the carcass of the back of the bakkie.

Chanel was quickly joined by Hershey and Toblerone and started eating. Nestle however, was still in the pen refusing to come out. I took a piece of meat and showed it to her and hoped she would follow me out but the abnormal presence of lots of people and cars was just too much and she would go nowhere near the gate. This was actually a serious problem because the last thing we wanted was for Chanel, Hershey and Toblerone to wander of into the camp leaving Nestle behind. So everyone apart from Kate, Ryan, James and myself were ordered to leave and we set about the task of getting Nestle out.

We tried for half an hour to no avail and the prospect of cutting the fence was seriously discussed, try as we may Nestle just would not follow the feeding car and could not be forced out of the gates. Before cutting the fence we thought we’d try one more time only this time we would drive the car along the outside of the fence and this time to our relief, Nestle followed all the way to the gate where I then jumped out (Ninja style of course) with a whole Oryx leg, slowly but surely Nestle crept forward, I threw the leg down and backed away. My heart was in my mouth as she inched forward towards it, when she pounced on the leg I lunged forward and managed to shut the gates behind her. This startled Nestle and away she ran joining the other three with the carcass. Phew! We placed a water bowl with the cats and left them to finish their meal in peace.

For the first two weeks Kate and myself would take turns joining James and Ryan in the bush tracking the girls. I was up first and it was a great feeling sitting around the campfire watching the sunset knowing the girls were finally out in the game camp.

Now would be a good time to introduce you to the three characters that make up the main tracking team, first we have our Ranger, James Slade who has been mentioned in several of my previous blogs, usually in relation to non-cheetah related topics such as Infected Mushroom and Morkel metres. But as a side project to such endeavors James had also gained plenty of experience ideal for this project by tracking the 5 male cheetahs released into NamibRand Nature Reserve.

Joining him was one of our student interns from the states Ryan Sucaet. To say Ryan is a bit of a character would be an understatement, for Ryan is a guy who speaks in his own language that involves needlessly shortening words. Examples of ‘Ryanisms’ include ‘saw’ for sorry, ‘delish’ for delicious, ‘perf’ for perfect and ‘newb’ for someone who is a beginner at something. He also believes he has a deep connection with the constellation Scorpios and is certain he will die at the age of 26 and therefore refuses to wear sunscreen…something I am determined to beat out of him!!!!

Finally we have the tracking vehicle Jetson, a 20-year-old Land Rover that has seen better days. When Jetson was first resurrected back to life by our mechanic he made odd ‘whoop whoop whoop’ sounds that were not too dissimilar to the sounds the spaceships made in the Jetson cartoons, hence the name.

Tracking the cheetahs begins early, so with stars still in the sky we emerged from our tents and prepared for the first day of following the cats. We jumped aboard Jetson and headed off to where we left the girls with the carcass fully expecting to find all four girls still lying by it with full bellies, too heavy to move. However, when we arrived at the carcass we only found Chanel in attendance. The tracking equipment was brought out and the beeps heard on the receiver from the choc’s collars lead us in the direction of one of the waterholes and sure enough when we arrived at Hogs Heaven waterhole we found cheetah spoor.

We followed their signals deeper into the bush where we eventually found them exploring their new territory. We followed them for most of the morning until it was time to head back to the campsite where Kate would be waiting with the feeding bakkie to swap places with me. The fact that the chocs had found one of the waterholes during their first night was really good news, but the fact they left Chanel behind was very worrying and at the end of that first day we thought we may have to consider placing Chanel straight back into the pen.

The next day I drove back out to Bellebenno and found Jetson parked on one of the roads, Ryan and Kate emerged from the bush and told me the good news that the chocs had joined back up with Chanel over night and were sat together not far into the bush. James then came running out of the bush very excitedly shouting: ‘They are making a kill!!’ We all ran as fast as we could and followed James back into the bush where the sound of loud grunting could be heard. The cause of the noise soon became clear as we were greeted by the sight of Chanel biting down on the back of a fully-grown Oryx’s neck! The Oryx was making a lot of noise and was trying to shake Chanel off. Chanel was in a very awkward position sat on top of the Oryx’s head right between it’s horns and completely in the wrong position in order to make a kill.

It took us all a while to believe what we were seeing and my heart was pounding out of my chest, desperately hoping Chanel would not get impaled by one of the Oryx’s incredibly sharp horns. Meanwhile the chocs were sat under a tree not taking any interest in getting involved. Unable to get a good hold of the Oryx Chanel let go and quickly backed away missing the Oryx’s swipe of it’s horns. The Oryx then ran away leaving Chanel to catch her breath. There we were only the night before considering putting her back into captivity whereas now we had just witnessed her attempting to hunt! There was no more action for the rest of the day but unbeknown to us Chanel was only getting warmed up.

We found the girls the next morning walking along one of the roads when they decided to stop and sit under a nearby tree. To not disturb the girls too much we parked Jetson 50 metres or so from the cats. I was given first observation duty and walked over to the area where the girls had flopped and sat myself in the shade expecting to be there for a while watching the girls sleep. I couldn’t have been sat for more than 2 minutes when Chanel darted off into the bush quickly followed by the chocs, before I had even got to my feet the familiar grunting sound of an Oryx in distress could be heard. I excitedly ran back to the car to get James and Ryan and we all sped off in the direction of the grunting. Again we found Chanel battling with an adult Oryx only this time she had it by the throat! Again my heart was pounding; watching this life and death battle no more than 10 metres in front of me was one of the most intense moments of my life. After 15 minutes of struggling, Chanel finally brought the Oryx down, its throat now covered in blood.

We really thought this was it, the first kill. But the Oryx used all its strength to get back on its feet. Chanel was now exhausted; again the chocs just sat back and watched, but still Chanel fought and pulled the Oryx back down. The battle had now lasted 30 minutes; this is the stuff the wildlife documentaries cut out, there you see the predator catch their prey and the cut is to a shot of the animal dead, it appears quick and easy, this is not always the case. It was a strange feeling willing an animal to be killed, but this was exactly what this project was about, was it possible for a captive cat to learn to hunt? We willed Chanel to finish the job but it was just too much, without help from the others keeping the Oryx down she had run out of energy and let go. The Oryx staggered to its feet and stood in shock for a few minutes, its throat torn and bloody and its horns bent out of shape. When it came to it’s senses it ran of into the bush, it had had a very lucky escape. Chanel was exhausted and so were we from the adrenaline rush! All I could think was: ‘what a cat!’ If only the chocs would help.

For the next few days the girls continued to explore their new home and to our relief they showed no sign of trying to find a way through the perimeter fence. They were even seen sniffing at the swing gates but did not try and push through them – our hard work on the fence line had paid off. One morning we discovered that Chanel had a significant slash on her right rear leg, thankfully it was superficial and did not appear to be causing her any discomfort.

This was more than likely an injury sustained whilst hunting and looked very much like a wound a warthog could inflict (since this injury Chanel is very reluctant to chase after warthogs). Six days had passed since the girls had eaten and it was decided to provide them with some food, so the next day we fed the girls two small Red Hartebeest legs. We calculated that this meal would be enough to give them some energy but left them hungry enough to want to go and hunt.The day after we had fed the girls the Hartebeest legs, day 8 of the release, I was with James and Ryan following the girl’s signals through the bush but this time it was different as the signals were quickly changing direction and getting stronger and then weaker, this meant they were moving….quickly. Our pace quickened in pursuit and as the signals became constantly strong I caught a glimpse of movement ahead in the thick bush. As we slowly approached the bush opened up slightly and we saw something that put a big smile on our faces, the chocs were eating a juvenile Oryx. Chanel was sat to the side panting heavily with blood all over her face, she had done it, she had made her first kill!

James, Ryan and myself silently congratulated ourselves, sat down and enjoyed the show. All four girls took turns in gorging themselves and we left them that day passed out in the shade with enormous bellies. It was a very good day!

The news was spread all around CCF to everyone’s excitement. At this point the release had gone amazingly well, better than we had dared hope; the cats were staying together, they had found water, the fence line was keeping them in and Chanel had made a kill. The question now was would it continue?

Friday, 22 October 2010

The Bellebenno Release, Part 1: Preperation

Around seven-eight months ago CCF decided to embark on a major project that would aim to put some of our captive cats back into the wild. However, if you think this simply involves opening the gates to a cheetah pen then you would be very wrong. Remember, our captive cheetahs were orphaned at a very young age and never had enough time with their mother to learn essential life skills, especially the art of hunting. There is no guarantee a cheetah that has been captive for most of its life will be able to hunt and survive on its own. Therefore the cheetahs we release would have to be radio-collared in order for us to track and monitor them. They would also have to be released into a controlled environment i.e. a game camp. This is what is known as a 'soft release'.

CCF has such a camp and is located on one of ours farms, Bellebenno. It is 4000ha and contains Kudu, Zebra, Oryx, Red Hartebeest, Steenbok, Duiker, Eland and Giraffe, in other words plenty of cheetah food! The Bellebenno camp was used for a similar soft-release project quite a few years ago however the two cats released escaped from the camp and had to be put back into captivity. This was a scenario that we really did not want to repeat and a huge part of this project has been making the fence line as escape proof as we could make it. Our biggest obstacle to achieving that were warthogs, who like nothing more than digging holes under the fence providing a perfect escape route for any cats inside. In the first soft-release project an experimental method was used with the aim of reducing the frequency of holes being dug. The method involved installing small ‘swing-gates’ along the entire fence line which would provide warthogs a way of entering and exiting the camp without the need to dig, all the while providing a visual barrier to the cheetahs and keeping them inside. However, at the start of this project we found that most of the swing gates were in need of repair or had gone missing altogether.

Restoring the swing gates was going to be a huge task so step up our Ranger James Slade. James has essentially been the project manager and as you will soon see deserves a huge pat on the back, more than anyone, for the success of the project (just don’t tell the Canadian bastard I said that). After fixing and numbering a whopping 172 swing gates the project was well and truly underway and so it was time for myself and Kate, cheetah keepers extraordinaire, to decide which of our 50+ cats to release. We knew we wanted to release a coalition, as that would gives us a greater chance of the cats learning to hunt, but age and personality were also considered. After some careful thought we decided on 8-year-old sisters Nestle, Hershey, Toblerone (aka the Chocolates) and their coalition mate, 10-year-old Chanel. Unbeknown to us at the time we had made the perfect choice as these four cats were destined to go down in CCF legend.

We chose these cats for numerous reasons; all four possess a fiery character, all four are excellent runners and they have been a coalition for many years, increasing the chances that they will stick together once released and help each other hunt. We did have a concern over Chanel’s age but thought it was worth the risk, as she appeared to be the group leader and is a big and extremely bold cat.

Now we knew who our release subjects were we started the process of ‘training’ the cats for the big day. We moved the Chocs and Chanel into their own pen and began getting them used to the type of meat that would be on offer to them in the camp, so we changed their diet to whole legs of Oryx, Kudu and Hartebeest. Kate and myself were very pleased to see all four girls immediately eat of the same leg with only the minor squabble. The pic below shows one of our student interns, Ryan, modeling one of the chocs and Chanel's first legs, Ryan became a crucial member of the cheetah tracking team and will get plenty of 'word time' in Part 2.

Meanwhile James was busy on another crucial part of the project, building a campsite from scratch. As I mentioned earlier, once the cats are released they would need monitoring everyday to see if they are hunting and eating for themselves. Therefore a tracking team would need to be permanently based in Bellebenno. A small section near the centre of the camp was cleared and transformed into a very comfortable camp complete with three tents, a fire pit, water tank, bush shower and toilet.

Kate and myself were not standing around doing nothing as throughout all this time we were busy filling in the existing warthog holes in the fence line with rocks and bush – this is a never ending task by the way as the warthogs continuously dig new holes and push out the rocks from the filled ones. So since the swing gates were completed either Kate or myself have been driving around the entire fence line checking for holes and filling them in almost every day. We have almost exhausted the supply of rocks lying around our farms and pretty soon we may have to consider blowing up the Waterberg Plateau for more.

The cats were tentatively scheduled to be released in early August and with that date fast approaching it was time to fit the girls with their radio-collars. One by one the girls were boxed and taken to our clinic where they were given a final health check and had the collars fitted. The girls were then transported back to the Bellebenno cheetah pens where two gates were the only things separating them from 4000ha of freedom.

To continue their feeding ‘training’ we then started giving the girls whole carcasses. At these feedings we saw encouraging signs of the girls killer instinct as when the carcasses were delivered one of the girls would grab the animal by the throat and hold on, just as a wild cheetah would do to kill their prey. The girls also continued to eat together harmoniously.

Everything was set and the day before the cats were due to be released everyone was extremely excited. So during my daily feeding routine I went to check on the girls only to find Hershey was missing. Chanel, Nestle and Toblerone came up to the fence expectantly looking for food but Hershey was nowhere in sight. I eventually found her lying under a tree looking extremely sorry for herself with a swollen throat. She showed no interest in food and was reluctant to even stand up. It appeared that she may have been stung or bitten by something and was definitely in no state to be released, much to our disappointment. Thankfully Hershey made a quick and full recovery but there were more delays due to problems with the tracking car, a car which, shall we say has ‘personality’ and will feature heavily in this epic story!

Finally on Wednesday the 1st of September 2010, the fence line was ready, the camp was ready, the car was ready and most importantly the cats were ready!

A freshly killed Oryx carcass was driven out to the pen followed by CCF staff and volunteers. The Oryx would be the incentive for the girls to leave their pen and provide them with a sound meal to give them energy for their first steps back to the wild. Once at the pen the viewing hoards were placed into the back of a couple of bakkies and positioned at the area the Oryx would be placed. The car with the Oryx then positioned itself in front of the cheetah pen holding the now very confused Chocs and Chanel. And after seven months of planning and hard work, James, Kate and myself stepped forward and opened the gates………

Thursday, 19 August 2010

World Cup 2010

The World Cup in South Africa was something I had been looking forward to ever since I started working at CCF in 2008. Being able to share in the enjoyment of the world’s greatest sporting event with Africans in Africa was going to be great!

As I said in my previous blog I found myself in Windhoek at Joe’s Beer House having dinner with three Americans on the night of England’s opening game against the USA. Unfortunately our table was not in view of a TV screen so I spent my time darting back and forth checking on the score - when I found that Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard had put England ahead I was of course extremely happy and expected more to come. However, when I returned to see the score at 1-1 I was perplexed, only to be told by some American fans that our goal keeper had basically thrown the ball in the back of the net.......unbelievable! So of course my American colleagues had great fun giving me stick, after all, as one US paper proclaimed: ‘USA win 1-1!!’

But no worries the next game was against Alegeria, a team we were bound to thrash out of sight and really kick start our World Cup. So back at CCF on the night of the game I was joined by not only CCF staff and volunteers but also members of the International Conservation course that was being held at CCF, it was a packed house and I made sure everyone was routing for the mighty England by handing out England flags and party horns. The national anthem played and the game got under way amidst a fantastic atmosphere in the CCF common room!

But what followed was one the worst football games I have EVER seen, a totally abysmal 0-0 draw. Needless to say it was a HUGE anti-climax and I had to humbly apologize to everyone on my country’s behalf.

When I was not watching my countrymen play like a bunch of girls my attention was switched to the African teams and there were big turnouts in the common room to watch the Hosts South Africa’s games and there was a lot of excitement when they almost pulled of a miracle and qualify for the next round. One thing that became a curse of this world cup was the emergence of the vuvuzela, quite possibly the most affective torture device ever created, especially when people don't now how to blow it properly like one of our staff members Joe who sounded more like a moose suffering a very slow and painful death. Sadly for Joe his beloved vuvuzela mysteriously disappeared - I have absolutely no idea what happened to it...........

Some Americans commandeered the common room to watch the next USA game so I ended up watching England’s glorious annihilation of Serbia 1-0 at Englehardt’s house (the very Englehardt I battled to get a half drum from), the price for watching the game at his house? why some of my Hunters Gold cider of course!

So the next round saw England up against Germany, and in footballing terms for us english it really doesn’t get any bigger than that. In the week leading up to the game I showed my support by kitting out our feeding car with England flags and playing english footie songs loud and proud. The day of the game came and it was time to don the Queen’s attire once more, this time however it was complete with face paint, I looked pretty damned good :)

But as you now know, it would be the last time I would sing the national anthem. A mixture of our players again playing like a bunch of girls, a dodgy Uruguayan referee and a linesman who seemed to have forgotten that when the ball crosses two feet over the line that actually means you award a goal saw us going was not a good day!!!

So all of us at CCF (bar the one German) joined the rest of Africa and put their support behind Ghana but it was more heartache as the dirty, cheating Uruguayans hand balled their way into the semis. Thankfully justice was done and both Uruguay and Germany failed to make the final, which in the end also turned into a bit of an anti-climax and was probably the most boring final ever, but at least I got to see Fernado Torres holding the world cup whilst draped in the scarf of Liverpool!

Most of us were sad to see the tournament come to an end and the four year wait till the next one begins. It makes me wonder where in the world I’ll be watching. Where ever I’l be a few things will be certain - I’l be fully supporting the Three Lions, football WILL come home one day! I’ll still know the dance routine to Shakira’s Waka Waka and if anyone brings out a vuvuzela I will shove it down their throats!!

Sunday, 1 August 2010


Very sadly time ran out this week (old age and cancer) for our elderly retired livestock guarding dog Tyger, who I have helped look after for the two years I've been here. Tyger's condition went down hill very quickly last week and when she was unable to stand up on her own all of us at Boskop knew we had to say goodbye.

Tyger was one of the sweetest dogs you could ever meet and just loved attention. She would always follow Kate around the house when she had a day off, so much so that Kate would have to let her lie in the bathroom when she took a shower. Myself and Kate were particularly guilty of spoiling the old girl and would often let her sleep on the sofa, but when Tyger started to loose bladder control we had to put chairs up to stop her from jumping up. However, Tyger was often very determined and we would regularly find out that she had outsmarted us :)

She was a CCF dog but we loved her like our own pet and we will miss her greatly. Whenever I will look back at my time at CCF living at Boskop I will always think of her.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Holiday Part 2: Namibia

After having a thoroughly enjoyable time back home it was a great feeling to know that when I landed back in Namibia my holiday wasn’t over!

After picking up the rental car I ended up getting a bit lost in Windhoek due to me being extremely tired (and stupid) but I eventually made it to Arrebusch guest lodge where I met up with Kate. I was very pleased to see her and she appeared pleased to see me however she was rather more excited to see the 4kg of dark chocolate Toblerone I bought for her from the duty free shop, that’s right 4kg!!!!! I am a bloody good boyfriend am I not?? :)

I was far too tired to venture out anywhere so we just relaxed at Arrebusch and ate at their restaurant, which was excellent (the food there is probably the main reason me and Kate keep returning.) The next morning we headed of to the airport and picked up my sis and Jim. After a quick lunch we said goodbye to Kate and headed back to Arrebusch where this time it was Kate and Jim who were too tired to go anywhere. So the next morning is where our holiday really began!

Our first destination was Soussesvlei, but to get there we had a good 4-hour drive south ahead of us. Soussesvlei is an area consisting of stunning sand dunes and is one of Namibia’s most popular natural attractions. It has been a place I have been dying to see ever since I arrived in Namibia and it exceeded my expectations, being there was like being on another planet and all three of us loved climbing/sliding up and down the dunes.

Also, our accommodation near Soussesvlei was amazing as our room/tents were located in the dessert with stunning views of the Namib-Naukluft mountains. And my two years in Africa has helped turn me into a braai master and I thoroughly enjoyed cooking over a fire under a moonless sky with millions of stars above us – it was a fantastic start to our Namibia hols!

Our next stop took us right to the coast to Swakopmund. Swakop is Namibia’s prime holiday destination and is famous for all kinds of extreme sports and exciting activities. I have seen many of my CCF colleagues leave and return with amazing stories over the past two years and for one reason after another I have been unable or forbidden to go, so it was an amazing feeling to finally drive into Swakopmund and set eyes on the South Atlantic ocean for the first time.

We again lucked out with our accommodation, which was a very nice two-bedroom apartment with a sea view. When I booked this trip there were four things I just had to do in Swakop and I am pleased to say over our three-night stay we managed to do all four. The first was to go quad biking and sand boarding in the dunes and I can’t even describe just how much fun it was!

The second was to have dinner at the Tug restaurant, which is famous for its seafood; I had very nice calamari and kingklip and even braved the oysters that Kate had raved to me about although they did little to convert me. My sis and Jim had the………….chicken (although they also braved the oysters, again there were no converts!).

The third was to kayak in Walvis Bay with the sea lions, which was another amazing experience and something I will definitely try and do again before my time in Namibia is up.

The final thing I had to do was visit the craft market and test out my haggling skills. When we arrived we found that we were the only visitors in sight and were instantly pounced upon by the craft sellers and luckily for us all of them were offering a ‘special price’. Their special prices however were aimed at gullible first time tourists and so the haggling began. My greatest success was to get my favorite craft seller and fellow Liverpool supporter to come down from $2000 to $740 for two impressive woodcarvings. Again, never underestimate the power of the English charm!

Sadly after only three days it was time to head to CCF where we would stay the night before setting of early to Etosha. I took my sis and my cousin Ayesha there last year but unfortunately it was during the rainy season and animal sightings were not as plentiful as we would have hoped. This time our chances would be better and as it turned out I had my most successful Etosha trip yet! As well as plenty of Zebra, Springbok and Giraffe our sightings included 2 Leopards, 14 Rhino, Elephants, Hyeana, Honey Badger, Civet, Genet and a huge Male lion.

Kate and Jim’s last two days were spent at CCF and I got to show them our recently born livestock guarding dog puppies and take them feeding where they met the greatest cheetah in the world, my beautiful Xena!

The two weeks flew by and sadly one of the best holidays I’ve had was over :( Kate and myself took the day of and drove my sis and Jim to the airport and we said our goodbyes - How my sis managed to squeeze all the souvenirs she bought into her suitcases I will never know!

With Kate and Jim safely on the plane Kate and I made our way to Joe’s Beer House where we met up with some past CCF volunteers to enjoy one last night of freedom before getting back to work. It was also the night of England’s opening game in the 2010 World Cup. But more on that to come……