Field Research and Conservation in Africa
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Distant Spots - an attempt at collar deployment in Samburu study area, January 19-26, 2009
Savannah Designs in Nairobi and ACK partnered to develop telemetry collars to provide information on the movement of cheetahs. These collars will supply GPS data, speed of the cheetah's movement, and ambient temperature. The operating system for data management of this project is through the Mpala Research Centre in Laikipia, and the Save the Elephant organization in Samburu. The cheetah collars will send SMS messages to the operating system - basically, the cats will be calling us! Five collars are GSM, and the other three will record the data directly onto the collar. This means we will need to locate those three collars via telemetry to download the information.
Thanks to a grant through the Ewaso Tracking Project, ACK has four radio collars ready for deployment. KWS and the Samburu and Isiolo County Councils gave authorization for cheetah monitoring in the region, so it is now time to fit the first collar.
Peter Barber, a volunteer for ACK, and I spent Monday, January 19 thru Monday, January 26 in the Samburu and Buffalo Springs Reserves, and in the West Gate and Maibai Conservancies. Our goal was to identify a target cheetah for collaring in the Samburu/Silo region. We aimed to identify a cheetah found in the reserve, but not in the most common area for tourists. The purpose of collaring the cheetahs is to evaluate home ranges, and the relationship of cheetah movements to human wildlife conflicts. This means that an ideal cheetah to collar would be one that leaves the park.
January 19 - Peter and I arrived in Buffalo in the late afternoon. As we neared Ewaso Gate we noticed a large number of vehicles in the nearby hills. As we suspected, a cheetah was in the area. It was a beautiful female with three cubs at about five months of age. I immediately called the KWS veterinarian, Chege. Chege would be available to assist us with immobilizing a cheetah for collaring the next morning. We agreed that this female would be a good candidate for a collar. We decided to look the following day for cheetahs in the area of the "Swimming Pools" and "Champaign Ridge." If this female was still around we may collar her.
Peter and I continued to drive over the bridge. We stopped to greet the Reserve rangers and the Save the Elephant camp staff. The sun was setting, so we were driving 40-45 kph, but we slowed when we saw two tourist vehicles at a stop. It was another cheetah! Photography was a bit difficult, since it was dusk. It was a large, lone cheetah. Last year we were told of a female and a male cheetah that were often in the area. I suspected that this cheetah spent the majority of his/her time in the reserve, and was not rare to this particular tourist spot. By collaring this cheetah, we would deprive tourists of a natural cheetah photo, and we would not receive the best movement data due to the area this cheetah frequented. We decided that this cheetah was not a candidate for collaring the next day.
Tour guides phoned us in the evening to inform us of an injured cheetah in the area. The cheetah was injured a month prior while chasing an impala. The cheetah chased the impala into a bush with a leopard. The leopard either clawed, or bit the cheetah in the rear left leg, tearing a large amount of skin from the inner and back side of the leg. The guides told us that the cheetah had a slight limp, but that the skin was healing where the injury occurred. The warden asked us to try and locate the cheetah in order to assess the injury and determine if veterinary intervention was needed.
January 20 - Two males and a lone male had been reported around the Buffalo Springs natural pool area last month. Chege, Peter, and I searched for cheetahs there, first thing in the morning. In true fading spot fashion, after the KWS veterinarian arrived, the cheetahs disappeared into the bush. We didn't find any cheetahs.
We had a meeting with the head of security in a ranch called Maibai, North of the Westgate Conservancy. Later this year, we will return there to try and trap a cheetah for collaring. Due to a family emergency, Chege had to leave.
Peter and I spent the rest of the week searching for good places to find cheetahs. Since we lost our vet, collaring would be hit and miss, and could only happen if another KWS veterinarian was available. We looked for cheetahs to add to our photo library, and if we found another prime candidate for collaring we would attempt to contact a KWS vet.
No one saw the injured cheetah, but we still searched that evening in the area where it was last sighted.
January 21 - We searched for the injured cheetah again. In the heat of the afternoon we spoke with wardens, rangers, and scouts about the details of the injured cheetah. We tried to find a tourist that had taken photos, but we were unsuccessful.
January 22 - We found the injured cheetah! A giraffe staring under a bush alerted us to its location. The cheetah's injury was large and still pink, but it was healing on its own, and the cheetah had made a kill. She appeared to be thin, however most of the cheetahs in the area were thin due to severe drought. If a vet were available we could immobilize the cheetah to get a better look at the injury. After discussing the situation with each other, Peter and I decided not to intervene unless the cheetah appeared distressed. From what we could observe, the area around the injury seemed to be healing well.
January 23 - No cheetahs found.
January 24- We found the injured cheetah again, and she had made another kill. We believe she is strong enough to survive since she managed to kill twice in less than a week despite many lions in the area.
January 25 - We found another male cheetah in Buffalo Springs Reserve, but at the time we found him, no other KWS veterinarian could come. Collaring would not happen on this trip.
January 28 - Peter and I arrived back in Nairobi. We prepared for trapping in the Salama area. Collars in the Samburu area will need to wait until after the rains. When the rains have passed the lions will move out of the park, and the cheetahs will be easier to locate.
- Mary Wykstra
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