Profession and Passion - a dream come true!
I am a dentist who is fascinated with cheetahs. Laurie Marker gave me the opportunity to combine the two. In January 2006, the Cheetah Conservation Fund people, in Namibia, did yearly physicals on their rescued cheetahs. I was involved in the "knock-downs," transports, physicals and treatment (dental AND general), recovery, and return to their enclosures - for fourteen of the thirty-eight cheetahs in temporary residence. Being able to be a Dentist for these beautiful spotted cats, as well as getting to "play" veterinarian with Arthur Bagot-Jones, a Namibian vet—was absolutely awesome. I had to keep pinching myself to believe, and appreciate, what I had in my hands and before my eyes.
When I wasn't their dentist, I was one of their keepers. Along with the CCF staff and other volunteers, I helped care for the daily husbandry of the 38 cheetahs. Imagine the photo ops when having eleven cheetahs chasing after you, in the back of an open truck. After all, I had their steaks! They can easily outrun the truck, so you are keeping them off the truck with poles, as they run behind for exercise/enrichment. We also carefully enjoyed the cheetahs "up close and personal," when they were exercised in groups - coursing (greyhound-type run, after a target on a rope track). My Canon was smoking from all those beautiful shots of cheetahs running/flying; as only a cheetah can.
Cheetahs were the focus, but many, many other African animals were seen in their native habitat. I was very close to a radio-collared wild leopard, as I accompanied a leopard researcher doing his tracking around the CCF property. Being told: "Larry, you'd better get INSIDE the truck, with the antenna," had my eyes popping and adrenaline flowing. Fresh leopard tracks and poop, confirmed just how close we were to this unpredictable cat.
The "roads" inside the CCF farm were a challenge, as unusual frequent rains in this desert savannah left many ruts and mud. Once, when we were stuck, we found fresh leopard tracks nearby. With night approaching, we became very anxious for help to arrive. Getting stuck in the bush became part of the adventure.
One road trip found a three foot long monitor lizard crossing in front of us. We chased it to under an Acacia bush, which I climbed under to get my photos. The lizard wasn't feeling photogenic, and became very threatening with hissing from his air expanded throat. Acacia thorns are not forgiving so I couldn't get out easily; I had no choice but to just complete the photo shoot.
Besides seeing the various exciting animals living on the greatly expanded CCF farm, I also travelled to Etosha National Park to see many more. After watching a spotted hyena picking at a carcass, we sat in the car watching a pride of lions interact with a herd of Springbok. The lions' bellies were full, but that didn't keep the Springbok from pronging all over the place. I had to roll up the window as the pride passed next to our parked vehicle. The birds, from flocks of ostriches with their chicks, to Tawney eagles were spectacular. The zebras, giraffes, and various antelope went about their business; barely paying attention to our insignificant presence in THEIR territory. From sundown to sunup we were fenced inside guest camp lodges - locked away from the lions.
Another aspect of this adventure cannot be ignored. Living in contact with animal people from other cultures is an invaluable experience. Working, sharing meals, getting stuck in the mud, and having discussions into the night with people from Britain, Namibia, South Africa, Australia, the Netherlands, and others, is an added gift from this CCF adventure. Perhaps "getting my hands dirty" with these other animal lovers, was just as meaningful as the amazing "profession meets passion" aspect, and enjoying the African animals. Thank you Laurie! Thank you cheetahs!