Today we woke up early at the Cheetah Conservation Fund to get breakfast before heading to the ‘Cheetah Run’. We weren’t really sure what that term meant, but all of the staff at the CCF had a certain glimmer in their eye when they mentioned it to us. It turns out that this was to be one of those amazing, once in a lifetime experiences that really could not happen anywhere else in the world. Thank you Namibia.
The people at the CCF are world leading experts when it comes to cheetahs. They are quite often developing the standards of practice that those working with cheetahs internationally will reference and/or adopt. When it comes to the small percentage of cheetahs that the CCF houses in captivity it became quickly apparent to the staff that without exercise the cheetah’s health would decline. Sound familiar? Seeing as no one has invented a cheetah treadmill or opened up Gold’s Gym for cats it fell to them to create a stimulus that would arouse a cheetahs hunting instinct and get them running in a somewhat controlled manner. Considering that cheetahs run faster than any other animal with a top speed of over 70 miles/hr (110 km/hr) this wasn’t quite as simple as throwing a tennis ball and asking them to fetch.
If you’ve ever seen dogs running at the track you might have noticed that there is a little mechanical bunny that races around the track ahead of them. The people at CCF developed a cable system that has a motor in the center. There is a series of pulleys which the cable runs around as it weaves its way throughout a field creating a 300 meter (1,000ft) course for them to run. They then attached a rag to the cable. Since cheetahs are natural born hunters the movement of the rag is enough to trigger their hunting instincts. The cheetahs see this rag and take off full sprint after it.
We were set up mere feet away from the cable waiting for these high speed balls of claw and fur to come racing towards us. At times we stood just past a pulley so that the cheetahs would come racing directly towards us turning after the rag in a cloud of dirt narrowly missing us as we stood still and trusting knowing full well that should their attention turn from the rag to our shirt the mood of the day would change rather quickly. Clearly we stayed as still as we could.
I got some of the most amazing photos I have ever taken. There is nothing quite like a cheetah being right in front of your face running at full speed. I don’t think many get so close and walk around grinning the way we all were afterwards. Luckily these particular cheetahs are the most tame ones at CCF. After they were all tired out from running faster than most non-highway drivers they were tired, well fed and content to be approached. We got to pet the cheetahs and take a few pictures with them. A big thanks to the entire staff at the Cheetah Conservation Fund for their amazing hospitality. Dr. Laurie Marker’s love for and vast knowledge of this amazing animal came through in every moment. We are truly blessed to have been able to spend this time with her and these animals.
After a very full morning we got back into our rental and on the road heading to TreeSleeper Camp in Tsintsabis roughly 162 miles (260 km) from the CCF. After letting me get my rally on speeding down the dirt road sliding through mud puddles Evan took back over driving on the left hand side of the road. 3.5 hours later we pulled up to the camp. We were greeted by Moses and shown to our campsite where we were to pitch tents that they provided and sleep up in a platform in the trees. The San are the local bush people in the region. Throughout the years they became experts at sleeping in trees in order to stay safe from lions, cheetahs and other predators. We get to experience this way of life first hand. Luckily these more modern campgrounds have electricity and hot water provided by solar power.
After we got our tents setup it was off to the communal fire pit to see some traditional San shamanic dance cermonies. Mehdy even got to dance with the men for one song dancing in a circle around the campfire till sweat dripped from his face. He just couldn’t keep up with the San people who often dance late into the night celebrating an event in someones life.
After the dancing it was back to our tents and quickly to sleep. Another amazing day in this spectacular southern African country. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow has in store for us.
Mehdy reached out recently. Since I am taking a 1 year sabbatical and can once again travel he invited me to come shoot another show with The Hostel Life. This time we went to Namibia. I arrived in NYC today to spend some time with my love before heading back to the mountain in North Carolina. My responsibilities on the show are photography and sound, but I also wrote a few blogs detailing what happened a few days. Here’s my blog on Day2. You can read the original on The Hostel Life’s official site: //www.thehostellife.com/blog/item/226
THE HOSTEL LIFE: NAMIBIA – CHEETAH MEET AND GREET
By Devin Martin – Photography and Sound
Today we left the Cardboard Box Hostel in Windhoek in our rental truck and headed North towards The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) outside Otjiwarango. It was about 163 miles (262km) door to door. The last 29 miles (47km) are a dirt road that ends right at the CCF’s gate. We were heading to the CCF to meet up with Dr. Laurie Marker, arguably the world’s leading expert on Cheetahs. There are roughly 10-12 thousand cheetahs left in the entire world. Namibia has 3-4,000, or one third, of the world’s population. Dr. Marker, originally from the United States, moved to Namibia to study the cheetah. She is co-founder and director of the CCF. The Conservation Fund is mecca for studying cheetah behavior and helping modern people to live in peace with these amazing animals. The CCF is open to the public and also houses a number of interns and volunteers doing research.
Immediately upon our arrival we were rushed into the facility for feeding time. A few of the younger, rescued cheetahs that are not able to roam wild are fed meat in a bowl. Our first glimpse of these rather large cats was teeth out chomping on big hunks of meat. Their beauty and their power were immediately apparent. I couldn’t wait to see them up close and without a fence between us. Luckily we wouldn’t have to wait too long.
Dr. Marker greeted us at the feeding and gave us a quick tour of the facility. We got to see the veterinary clinic while surgery was being performed on a dog that got in the way of a warthog’s tusk. The injury was worse than originally expected and they had to stay with the pup throughout the night, but she was doing much better come morning. We saw goats being milked (they make their own goat cheese on site), fed baby goats from a bottle, fed their little puppies bowls of puppy chow and marveled at the wild warthogs and other animals running around the property. If we had any doubts that yes, we are in Africa, they were dashed at the CCF.
After seeing the rest of the animals it was time to get in an open-air truck with our guide, Charles, and go visit the cheetahs out in the bush. We managed to track down five cheetahs. Our guide had a bag of meat that he uses to lure them closer to the truck and we got amazingly close. Some of the photos I got one would assume required a really long lens as the cheetahs face fills the entire frame. I was mostly using a 50mm lens (comparable to the human eye), they were just that close. These animals are considered ‘retired’. They have spent a lot of time with people, but don’t let that fool you, they are all wild animals. I can’t keep track of the number of times my little house cat, Agape, has gotten feisty and drawn blood. Without the proper respect these animals could certainly do a lot of damage. Luckily they all seemed to be well fed and happy.
As late afternoon came we went on a game drive with Dr. Marker, Dr. Bruce Brewer and a few of the interns working at the facility. We drove out into the 20,000 acre bush looking for wild game. We saw Kudu, Warthogs, Springbok, Red HarteBeest, a number of birds and a very unexpected Aardwolf that the whole staff of CCF was excited to get a glimpse of. We were hoping for a leopard but haven’t gotten lucky there yet. Hopefully when we head north to Etosha National Park we will see lions, leopards, and elephants. Personally, I can’t wait to see another baboon. We saw one perched on a post along the road outside of the airport and haven’t seen one since.
Tomorrow we start the day with a cheetah run. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but it sounds like they will be exercising the cheetahs by prodding their hunting instincts and we will get to stand a few feet away as they come running by at full speed. Considering that they are the fastest animal on land this should be amazing to witness.