A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend some time with three of Namibia’s most impressive carnivores. Lions, leopards and cheetahs are all truly powerful and inspiring creatures, and yet, as with most things in nature they are in fact part of a very fragile system that can be broken very easily. As such there are many different organisations from all around the world that have made it their goal to ensure the survival of these majestic creatures in their natural habitats.
Human/animal conflicts are one of the major sources of problems for these big cats. Farmers often kill these predators because they fear a loss of livestock and want to ensure their farms are safe from threats. Often this means that adult female cats are killed while on the hunt for food for their cubs.
A Lioness roars inside her enclosure at N/a’an ku sê.
When a mother is killed her cubs are left alone and helpless in the harsh wilderness of Namibia. Sometimes the predator is caught, (usually cheetahs are captured as lions and leopards are simply too big for most people to handle with any success) and people have been known to try and tame them for recreational or security purposes.
It is almost impossible for a non-professional conservationist to look after one of these big cats and as a result many abandoned cubs, and a few mature cats, die each year due to malnutrition or sickness.
Hungry hungry leopard- Big cats are incredibly difficult to keep fed and as such should
never be adopted by untrained people.
This is where an organisation like the N/a'an ku sê Foundation comes in to play. One of the many conservation goals of this organisation is to try and mediate the conflicts between humans and large predators.
From intensive work with farmers in the surroundings areas, to large carnivore tracking and monitoring, the conservationists at N/a’an ku sê are attempting to educate and help local people and farming communities on how best to live with Namibia’s big cats.
N/a’an ku sê is primarily concerned with two types of big cat conservation. First and foremost they are involved with tracking and monitoring of wild predators in the surrounding areas.
Left to right: An old RF tracking collar, a motion detecting camera, a GPS transponder
The tracking collars, GPS transponders and motion activated cameras are all used to map out the movements of big cats in order to give us more information on the habbits of these elusive creatures.
The more information organisations like this have the more likely it is that we as a species will better understand these animals and thus be able to live more harmoniously with them.
Speaking to Stuart at N/a’an ku sê it is easy to see the passion that the people who work there have for the animals they are protecting. The excitement and pride that the whole team feels when speaking of the wild Cheetah and her new litter of cubs was truly heart warming.
Stuart showing us exactly where a wild cheetah is nesting with her litter of cubs.
Sometimes, unfortunately, when humans and big cats encroach on one another’s space things go wrong. This leads to situations were these big cats can be held in captivity by untrained well-meaning people or selfish exploitative people.
Either way, if a wild animal, particularly a predator, is held in captivity it often becomes impossible to rehabilitate it for re-release into the wild. These animals cannot be rehabilitated and used to be sent off to zoos or put down if no organization was willing to take them in.
By taking in unrehabilitatable leopards, lions and cheetahs N/a’an ku sê gives these animals a chance at a peaceful life in environments that are very similar to the habitats found in the wild.
A cheetah surveys its surrounds at N/a’an ku sê
All the money that is made from these animals in captivity is put straight back into conservation efforts of these self-same animals. Thus, not only do these once doomed captured animals have the opportunity to live out their lives but in doing so they are helping their entire species to survive through the money that is spent by tourists visiting N/a’an ku sê.
When I was at N/a’an ku sê I was lucky enough to be given an intimate tour of the premises. It started with a visit to the cheetah enclosure which three mature cheetahs now call home. Cheetahs are listed as endangered by CITES and thus the chance to spend some time, up close with them was truly special. I just had no idea how up-close it would be!
Aisha the cheetah with two young lads.
These three cats, named Aiko, Kiki and Aisha cannot be released into the wild as they had had too much contact with humans before being brought to N/a’an ku sê. This familiarity with humans would be problematic if they were released in the wild as they may try to interact with humans with disastrous results.
Aiko and Kiki about to be fed.
Not all the cheetahs at N/a’an ku sê are completely tame though and on the other side of the farm there is a tale unfolding that wouldn’t be out of place in an uplifting Disney film.
Lucky the cheetah was tied up by a farmer trying to tame her. Sadly, her leg became infected where the shackles were attached. When conservationists caught wind of her dire situation they managed to save her from a slow and certain death.
Unfortunately Lucky had to have one of her hind legs amputated as a result of infection. The happy ending here though is that Lucky now acts as a surrogate mother for 5 cubs at N/a’an ku sê.
Lucky the three-legged surrogate mother.
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)
Lucky now teaches these young cheetahs how to hunt and how to be independent. As a result N/a’an ku sê can now receive cheetah cubs and prepare them for a life in the wild. This kind of holistic rehabilitation is just not possible if a cheetah is raised solely by humans.
N/a’an ku sê has so far been a success story and you can take part in that story if you want to. They offer volunteer programs or you can donate to the foundation. The work they do is not limited to cheetahs and there are several programs that aim to help foster a mutually beneficial relationship between animals and humans in Namibia.
N/a’an ku sê is situated only 26km outside Windhoek just off the B6.
A happy cheetah...
...is a happy cheetah!
For those interested in supporting other conservation projects around Namibia, visit the Cheetah Conservation Fund, Africat or Desert Lion Conservation and see if you can help out these noble creatures!