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.