Notes From the Field - November 2013
It’s been quite a year! I’ve just arrived back to Namibia after six weeks of lecturing and fundraising in the United States and Canada. During my tour, I learned that our Visitor Centre had burned to the ground! We have just leveled the building and are looking towards the future!
The 4th of December brings us something to celebrate: International Cheetah Day – a day dedicated to raising awareness about the plight of the cheetah. We have put up posters throughout our CCF Centre, Otjiwarongo and Namibia, as we are proud to be the Cheetah Capital of the World. We are also raising awareness internationally about our Year End Challenge, which marks perhaps our most ambitious fundraising campaign ever. It’s only fitting, because as an organization we are standing at a threshold. For nearly 25 years we’ve been researching and pioneering programmes addressing the most urgent threats to the cheetah: human-wildlife conflict, habitat loss, livelihoods, and illegal pet trade. Our most recent research indicates that the solutions we’ve developed are working here in Namibia. Now the challenge becomes reaching the rest of the cheetah’s range.
We continue to expand – we’ve just placed some of our Kangal puppies with one of our partner projects in Tanzania, making it the fourth country in which we’ve started a Livestock Guarding Dog programme. And this year, our efforts for International Cheetah Day have expanded to create an awareness campaign among many zoological institutions around the globe which house cheetahs. We’re asking everyone to participate, to reach out using an arsenal of tools to spread the word about the vulnerability of Africa’s most endangered big cat, and the fact that its survival is in our hands. One thing is certain -- if we’re going to make the next 25 years as amazing as the first, we’ll need your help. I hope that you’ll continue to join us.
DOGS TO TANZANIA
At the end of October, Ayoub Msago, Education officer from the Ruaha Carnivore Project (RCP) in Tanzania joined us. The Executive Director of RCP, Dr. Amy Dickman, and I have worked closely since 1998 on a variety of projects, including our Livestock Guarding Dogs. The RCP works to develop conservation strategies for large carnivores in the important Ruaha Landscape. We’ve agreed to supply four puppies to RCP, and we hope that our dogs will provide a new tool for communities in reducing predator conflict towards livestock.
After two weeks of working with CCF staff and learning about our Anatolian shepherds and Kangal dogs, and how we work with local communities to guide the dogs to protect livestock from predators, Msago accompanied four of our Kangal puppies to the RCP in Tanzania. The puppies (two males and two females) born on the 18th of August 2013 to CCF’s Kangals Aleya, sired by Firat, and have been spayed, neutered and vaccinated. The new puppies arrived safely at RCP after nearly four days of travel by plane and car, and will be placed with farmers from the Maasai and Barabaig tribes. RCP's new program is being sponsored by the Australian Zoo.
Msago, during his stay here, traveled over 1300km around Namibia with CCF’s staff, visiting working dogs on Namibian farms, learning how the dogs are trained, and how CCF’s Livestock Guarding Dog programme is managed. Using livestock guarding dogs is an important non-lethal predator control solution. It’s a trend we hope to continue, allowing us to share what we have learned with other countries in the cheetah’s range, and with other predators experiencing human-wildlife conflict around the world.
International Cheetah Day is 4 December
Since we first worked with the IUCN in 2010 to feature the cheetah as its Red List Species of the Day on 4 December, every time the calendar rolls around to December I get excited about this remarkable opportunity to bring the world’s attention to the cheetah’s race against extinction.
This year, in addition to our popular “Virtual Cheetah Party” on Facebook, we’ve added more social media resources, including a Twitter hashtag (#SavetheCheetah), and special downloadable graphics so that supporters can show how much they love the cheetah. I’m planning a special “State of the Cheetah” address that will appear on our YouTube channel, and many of our favorite zoos will be joining in the celebration by offering special classes and utilizing CCF’s educational materials that teach their visitors about the plight of the cheetah and how they can help save it.
I’m counting on all of you, our existing supporters, people who care enough about the cheetah to follow CCF’s work, to help make some noise for the cheetah on 4 December! Click here to see all the resources available and how you can help make a difference.
LUNA AND ATHENA – TO FREEDOM!
On 15 October, CCF experienced the kind of day that reminds us why we endure everything else. Luna and Athena, two of CCF’s resident female cheetahs, were selected to be translocated to Erindi Private Game Reserve in Namibia in hopes they will be able to live the remainder of their lives in the wild. Luna has always displayed behavior consistent with a wild cheetah. She performed well in the soft-release program in January 2012, successfully hunting duiker and warthog piglets. In mid-October 2013, she returned to the game camp for a second time and once again she succeeded in hunting. Athena came to CCF at a much older age, so her hunting skills were not in question.
On 15 October 2013, Luna and Athena were transported to Erindi, a game reserve we have worked with previously, to start their new lives as wild cheetahs. They were released together at a waterhole and Athena ran off and did not look back. Luna went straight to the waterhole to drink.
The reports on the two females after their first week in the Erindi, are cautiously hopeful. Athena (5 years old) has been hunting successfully, however she had not found a reliable water source. She then moved out of the Erindi Ranch and we darted her and brought her back where she is now in a holding area to better adjust her to her new area. Luna (9 years old) has returned to the release site waterhole regularly, however, her successful kills have not been as great as we had hoped by this time. But, this is why we are monitoring her so closely, as we do know she is a good hunter. We have watched her hunting regularly, but has had limited success in making kills. We have been supplementary feeding her in between her kills to with food to keep her energy up. CCF’s team continues to monitor Luna and Athena’s progress, and we are grateful that these cheetahs are so far proving successful in their re- wilding.
Luna and Athena’s rewilding has become especially important as we recently recovered the remains of Hifi, one of our wild but resident cheetahs that we have monitored for over five years. We do not know why or how he died, but his remains were found in CCF’s Little Serengeti (the Big Field). Everyone who has visited CCF over the past five years has heard the story of Hifi; the wild cheetah who chose a home range encompassing CCF‘s Centre and who was regularly seen with his brother, Sam (who died roughly 3 years ago), courting the captive non-releasable female cheetahs at our Centre. Hifi was equipped with a satellite collar, and data from Hifi has contributed much to our knowledge of cheetah biology and ecology, as the opportunity to monitor and study an individual wild cheetah for such an extended period of time is a very rare opportunity indeed.
CCF is, first and foremost, about cheetahs in the wild, and so every opportunity we have to learn about cheetahs in the wild, and give captive cheetahs the opportunity to live in the wild is precious to us. Our biggest limitation on these efforts currently is the lack of sufficient radio collars and camera trap equipment to monitor wild cheetahs. Look for some opportunities over the next few months to help us acquire this necessary equipment!
By now, most of you know that on the afternoon of 16 October, a lightning strike to the thatch roof of our Visitor Centre building caused the building to catch fire. CCF’s staff, volunteers and interns worked valiantly to save all they could, and successfully ensured the safety of all personnel, animals, mitigated a good deal of the potential property damage, and prevented the fire from spreading to the surrounding buildings, especially our clinic and museum. The fire took the building within a couple of hours, and the fire continued burning all our educational books and materials well into the night. The loss was tremendous, and for me personally the worst part may have been that it happened while Dr. Bruce Brewer (our General Manager) and I, were on tour.
It has been a little over a month since it happened, and we’re just completing an evaluation of what we’ve lost and what happens now. One of the most immediate needs is to replace our printed materials, which we use to educate school learners and in our programmes to assist Namibian farmers. We have begun discussing how to replace the building that we lost, and you will soon be hearing more from us about how we plan to rebuild and how you can help us.
In the meantime, I am so grateful. I am grateful that we have such an amazing staff that operated so effectively in crisis and showed such resilience in opening CCF for business the morning after the fire. I am grateful that CCF has such generous and compassionate supporters, many of whom have already stepped up and offered to help us rebuild. I am grateful that our Namibian neighbors – school learners, farmers, everyone, really – have made a point to come visit us and show their support, even in the wake of such tragedy. I am also hopeful, because in the midst of loss, we are choosing to focus on the opportunity to rebuild better than before. CCF will rise out of the ashes, and rebuild.
NEW RESEARCH ON PREDATOR TOLERANCE
One of the things that sets our International Research and Education Centre apart is the amount of scholarly, peer-reviewed research that happens here. It’s always been my special privilege to work with graduate students, helping to grow the next generation of researchers and conservationists. Two studies that I completed with University of Kent Ph.D candidate Niki Rust were recently published. The studies, which examine attitudes of Namibian farmers towards predators and towards Namibia’s conservancies, are important to CCF’s work because they demonstrate that CCF’s approach to conservation has been making an impact.
For the past nearly 25 years, we’ve focused on saving the cheetah by empowering the communities that live alongside the cheetah. And this new research, which was recently published in two articles, one in Human Dimensions in Wildlife: An International Journal, and the other in Environmental Conservation, demonstrates that opinions about carnivores are directly correlated to the economic value attributed to the presence of carnivores. Where carnivores are seen as providing economic value, for example serving as a foundation for tourism, local communities show a higher tolerance of predators. Where carnivores are seen as a source of economic loss, because of predation, local populations are far less tolerant. The same is true with respect to opinions about Namibia’s conservancies. The more that interview subjects perceived the conservancy as acting to limit livestock loss and increase prosperity, the more positive view they held of the conservancy overall.
This research comes at a critical juncture in our race to save the cheetah and secure landscapes for their future. Over the past two decades we’ve succeeded in stabilizing and even increasing the population of cheetahs in Namibia by changing people’s attitudes towards them. But with increased population comes a renewed pressure on human-wildlife conflict issues. This new research reinforces our approach to conservation, and provides solid information upon which we can address new challenges and continue to deliver programmes that will make a difference for the cheetah.
EU DELEGATION VISITS
In the fall of 2012, I had the privilege of presenting to the EU Parliament’s Intergroup for Animal Welfare and Conservation (IAWC) about CCF and the work that we do here teaching farmers about non-lethal predator control and livelihood development. Many of the MEPs who participated in the session were interested in how the model of conservation we're using in Namibia can be deployed in European countries to address their problems with human-wildlife conflict -- issues involving wolves and bears native to European countries, but badly decimated in number by many of the same factors that have worked against the cheetah population over the years.
As a follow-up, we invited the members of the IAWC to Namibia, to see our programmes in action, most specifically our Livestock Guarding Dog Programme and habitat restoration through our Bushblok project and the research that is a part of implementing these applied conservation programmes. I met the group in Windhoek after deplaning from my US tour. the delegation had already been at CCF for two days and had been introduced our cheetah Educational Ambassadors Tiger Lily and Senay. I joined them at another community project south of Windhoek so that I could share with them aspects of education, conservation and economic development connected to our local conservancies which are leading Namibia’s environmental programmes.
It is always exciting to have guests and share our work with people who can potentially utilize our solutions to solve their conservation issues. We are so excited to be building bridges with EU policymakers, and look forward to continued dialogue with them.
On the Road
My six-week US and Canada fall tour began in Washington, DC this year at the International Conservation Caucus Foundation’s (ICCF) annual gala where I was presented with the prestigious “Good Steward” award by Senator Rob Portman. The award is presented annually to recognize outstanding individual leadership in the field of conservation and I am most grateful to be selected and listed among ICCF’s past award recipients including former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, Prince Albert II of Monaco, Prime Minister of Norway Jens Stoltenberg, Ed Norton, and Harrison Ford.
Between 17 September and 27 October, I traveled nonstop to two countries, nine states, and 15 cities to fund raise for CCF with the support of our CCF Chapters, Board members and CCF Volunteers. This was one of our most successful tours ever. I am grateful for everyone’s effort, thrilled that I could visit with so many cheetah friends, and I thank you all for your continued support of our goals to save this magnificent species.
My next stop was California. With the support of Dr. Nancy Black and the Monterey Bay Whale Watch Tours, a sold out crowd of 70 CCF supporters spent the whole day watching humpback whales! It was an exhilarating and unique experience for our friends. One of our main Chewbaaka and Year-End Challengers, the Freund family hosted other CCF NoCa donors at Cavallo Point, and we also enjoyed our annual fundraising event at Safari West in Santa Rosa with hosts Peter and Nancy Lang. Both evenings were wonderful. I then flew south to Laguna Beach where the Maxwell’s hosted a private cheetah event with Victor from Zoofari with CCF Board members Richard Kopcho, and Marisa Katnic and was able to also spend time with new CCF Director Sara Nichols and CCF supporter Steve Stong from the LA area. In addition, I was the guest speaker at the San Diego Explorer’s Club hosted by their Chair, Nancy Nenow and CCF’s David Dolan. It was great meeting more fellow Explorers.
Oregon was my next stop. I was presented with the Distinguished Alumni Award from Eastern Oregon University in La Grande. It was a fun weekend and a great honor. Then it was on to to Portland for Big Cat. Big Party at the Oregon Zoo hosted by the CCF Oregon Chapter. The evening was incredible and surpassed our expectations! Great thanks to CCF’s dearest friend, Howard Hedinger and CCF’s Director Colleen Sorensen, who along with support of CCF Trustee Emeritus Teresa Delaney and Big Cat Big Party Co-chairs, Paul and Linda Erickson, Kathy Casey and Janet Waggoner made this event so special along with all our CCF Oregon volunteers.
Dr. Bruce Brewer and I joined our chief ecologist, Matti Nghikembua, at the Wildlife Conservation Network(WCN) workshop, but unfortunately I was unable to speak at the WCN Expo this year due to other travel. But, Matti joined Laurie Payne (the other Laurie) at our booth and enjoyed meeting our CCF friends!
Bruce and I then traveled to Columbus, OH for CCF’s Annual Board Meeting hosted by the Columbus Zoo with the fantastic support of CCF Trustee Suzi Rapp and the Columbus Zoo Promotions Dept. This board meeting was in conjunction with the Wine for Wildlife Charity event on October 12 of which CCF was a major beneficiary of the exciting live auction which raised over $73,000 for CCF! A very special thank you to our CCF Board and Trustee members and the Columbus Zoo participants for making this event a grand success for our organization.
I then headed to Toronto Canada, where our CCF Canada Board, Chaired by Carolyn Farquhar, put together several events and meetings for me including an evening public lecture at the Toronto Zoo, and fundraising event the following evening at Toronto University. It’s been several years since I have been in Toronto and was great to see old friends and meet new cheetah supporters.
My next stop was Oklahoma City to meet up with Jack Hanna and Suzi Rapp from the Columbus Zoo with their cheetah Moya for a special CCF fundraiser hosted by CCF Trustee Vicki Gourley, Carol and Gary Sander, and the OKC Chapter. This event was a grand success at the Esperanza home of Cheryl and Paul Clements raising nearly $50,000 for CCF’s cheetah conservation efforts.
CCF’s Chicago Chapter as part of their gala introduced CCF’s first Online Auction, which proved to be extremely successful thanks to the generosity of our CCF donors and Board members generously contributing auction items. We are most grateful to everyone who participated and increased the gala revenue beyond our wildest expectations! A very special that’s to especially our Chicago Chapter, Chaired by Jayne Bazos and friends Marion McCreedy, Carol Oken, Kris Bazos, and the Chicago Volunteers with additional support from CCF Director Polly Hix and the partners at Foley and Lardner LLP!!
Matti joined me in Chicago after making several stops of his own along the way in Colorado, San Diego, Phoenix and Tucson Arizona, and Cincinnati, Ohio. Many thanks to Pip and Aaron Conrad, Elise Ward, Kym Janke and CCF volunteers, Darrin Grandmason, Dennis Wilson, andDan Marsh for helping along Matti on his “Mini Tour.”
After Chicago, I spent two days in New York City with Arlene Hedlund for meetings and a special evening in Staten Island with cheetah friends hosted by Natasha and Enrique Zapata. Next it was back to DC, where my cheetah friends Suzanne and Paul Conrad hosted a private CCF gathering in Winchester, VA with many of our Virginia donors who live in this area, including Elizabeth von Hassell and George Ohrstrom.
Our DC Gala was again held at the Folley and Lardner offices in Georgetown, with ambassador cheetah Moya and two cubs from the Columbus Zoo along with trainers, Brian Greene and Emily Teach. Earlier in the day, we were also appeared on Channel 8, which is owned by DC’s ABC affiliate, WJLA. There we promoted the Gala and CCF’s efforts to save the wild cheetah (and brought an entire newsroom to a screeching halt!) This year the DC Gala was at capacity with over 250 guests and VIPs supporting the event with significant support from CCF Trustee Emanuel “Manny” Friedman and EJF Capital members at the gala. It was a wonderful event hosted by DC Chapter, including Christy Bidstrup, Ron Marks, Melanie Brooks Weiss, Nicole Petrosky, and Kali Hopson, as well as CCF Staff and Volunteers.
Simone Friedman Rones with the support of EJF Philanthropies hosted a cheetah event in Great Falls, VA at the home of Hillary and Phil Facchina and daughter Nicole. This was a family event with Nicole’s school friends and parents and a first time experience to see an ambassador cheetah and cubs from the Columbus Zoo. This was a spectacular tented showcase and lecture for CCF and it was wonderful to share the mission to our new friends in Great Falls, VA.
My last evening in Washington, DC was spent at the Explorers Club’s Lowell Thomas Awards Dinner on October 26. CCF’s work in saving the wild cheetah was highlighted at a special reception at the Willard Hotel for VIP guests. Moya and the two cubs from the Columbus Zoo were showcased to help CCF introduce the plight of the cheetah in the wild to this prestigious group. As a Lowell Thomas Award recipient from 2010, I wish to thank the Explorers Club and their many members where I had the opportunity that evening to speak with many about CCF’s innovative programs and research that affects the future of the cheetah worldwide. Much thanks go to Explorer’s Kristin Larsen, Jay Kaplan and CCF’s David Dolan for their coordination of the weekend.
As CCF moves forward this year to save the cheetah in the wild, our work in conservation is never done. It requires us all to be steadfast and committed to our goals and innovative approaches to conservation to successfully save this magnificent species. With the Year End Challenge starting now, I hope you will reflect on CCF and our passion and support us in our ambitious effort and goal to save the cheetah in the wild with your kind donation.