Written by Kate Vanelli
Back in September of 2014, CCFs coalition of male cheetahs nicknamed ‘the Scientists’ made the move to a guest lodge near Windhoek, called Kiripotib. Since this group is non-releasable back to the wild, this was a good alternative where they would have plenty of natural space and receive lots of care and attention.
At the end of February 2016 CCF received a call from the lodge letting us know that Mendel, one of the males, didn’t seem himself and was refusing food. CCF sent a team down to the lodge to assess Mendel’s condition and it was decided to bring him back to CCF for further testing. CCF anesthetized Mendel upon arrival at the Centre and took blood samples, along with checking his overall condition. It was found from his blood results that he may be suffering from acute renal failure. At his age of ten years old, this is not unheard of, as many older cats suffer from renal issues. Since his renal failure was most likely not chronic, the decision was made to treat Mendel with fluid therapy and see if this improved his condition. After several days of training, Mendel became comfortable enough to eat his meals in a small cage where keepers were able to administer subcutaneous fluids while he ate several times a week. This seemed to improve his overall condition and demeanor and he has seemed healthier every day. However, there was still something missing.
Mendel, being a member of a male coalition, is very bonded to cheetahs Fossey, Livingstone and Darwin. The four had never spent any time apart up until Mendels’ treatments. The decision was made to reunite the group at CCF, since Mendel will continue to require regular medical treatments that CCF is equipped to give. Since CCF was also home to a group of four non-releasable females, Bella, Padme, Kayla and Kiana, those four females would make the move down to the lodge and the males would return to CCF, in a grand ‘cheetah swap’. The living situation at Kiripotib is ideal for the females because of their pen layout; Kayla and Kiana would be able to have their own living space separate from Bella and Padme, relieving the tension that the two groups of females traditionally expressed towards each other.
CCF keepers’ first step was to capture the four females in crates and load them into a van for the six hour drive down to the lodge. Kayla and Kiana seemed particularly suspicious, so a lot of training in the weeks prior to the move was necessary to keep things running smoothly. All were quickly captured the morning of the move and off the team went, four cheetahs in tow. By the time the vehicles arrived at the lodge, it was evening and the sun had just set. The females were taken to their new enclosure and, once the males were moved into a small separate area, let out to explore. Although slightly confused at the change of scenery, all four females showed interest in their surroundings and especially the unfamiliar males in the adjacent pen. Kayla and Kiana had originally arrived at CCF with the Scientists in 2007, and although perhaps unknowingly, the original six were briefly reunited.
The following morning as the sun came up, the CCF team arrived at the cheetah pens to see how the females were adjusting to their new surroundings and to the capture the three remaining Scientists, Fossey, Livingston and Darwin for the second half of the move. The females, although cautious, approached their keepers for food. Kayla and Kiana didn’t leave each others’ sides, taking turns keeping watch diligently. When it came to the capture of the three males, they proved to be extremely food motivated and were quite cooperative.
Once all three males were captured without incidence, the van was loaded up, and the females checked on last time, the CCF staff headed back to CCF to reintroduce all four coalition-mates. After the journey, Fossey Livingstone and Darwin were released into a large pen adjacent to Mendel’s pen, so they could have a chance to adjust and familiarize themselves with Mendel again before the reunion. They adjusted to their new pen almost immediately, the made it theirs by scent marking every tree.
Reports from Kiripotib tell CCF that the females are adjusting well and seem to be enjoying their larger space, although they possess a stubborn streak that the males seem to lack. Although CCF misses the females, stubborn streak and all, it is nice to know that they are enjoying their new space.
Although the group dynamic has changed since Mendels separation, with Fossey and Livingstone claiming dominance of the group in Mendels absence, the four reunited without major incident and Mendels’ frequent purrs of contentment demonstrate that the reunion was a success. Mendel can now continue his treatments alongside the cheetahs that have been his lifelong companions.
This article originally appeared on CCF.