Field Research and Conservation in Africa
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Mara Cub Issue
I find the discussions on facebook Kenyans for Wildlife (K4W) to be counterproductive. I am glad that for a while I have been able to deflect from the KWS attacks, but I do not understand why a forum that was set up to make a change has become a forum for outsiders to bash organizations and people for which they have no knowledge. KWS does not listen to you because you seldom have strong points. You have asked me to defend myself for something that I did not do wrong. You have labeled me guilty based on hearsay. You have judged the actions of people and organizations from afar.
Let me take the US for example – but also look at the management of wildlife in your own country… are people allowed by the government to take baby bears, wolves or cougars, and set up a facility without a management plan? No, the US Fish and Wildlife requires a physical and financial management plan to be submitted, the facility requires regular inspections by government and private authorities, submission of financial reports, and compliance to state and federal regulations, IUCN and other care guidlies, public haelth and security.... In the Mara case, they were working with a KWS person, but does that make it right? They were submitting a proposal for a very good programme, but does that make them ready?
My letter to KWS a few weeks ago did not target one institution, I did not request cub removal – I only pointed out that KWS has a problem with the number of well-wishing organizations who are taking cheetah cubs from the wild and keeping them in personal care. My request to KWS was to call a meeting of the carnivore advisory group to assist KWS in formulation of requirements, to form an inspection team and to hold by their standards. My letter pointed out one facility which has advertised on their web site that tourists can come to help raise a baby cheetah for eventual release into the wild. And another institution which was granted permission by KWS to house carnivores, but whose animals are in poor condition. I did also mention the Mara cubs which were kept in a small holding enclosure for their first two months while a new facility was being built. In none of these cases were protocols being followed that would allow potential release. Everyone is criticizing me for not contacting the Mara before sending the letter to KWS. This is because I was not criticizing the Mara for their efforts, but I was requesting that KWS address the policy that allows cheetahs in private hands. The very same people are accepting as hear-say the quality of care without seeing it for themselves.
1 – KWS was very aware of the cubs at the Mara – and was reviewing the proposed plan . But the decision to remove the cubs was based on careful evaluation of that plan, feasibility and current conditions.
2 – K4W members are so busy finding fault with me that you are overlooking the fact that there are several institutions that hold non-releasable cheetahs and are evaluating successful cheetah rehabilitation – Harnas and Africat are two such institutions mentioned by people defending the Mara’s intentions. Both of those facilities house non-releasable carnivores as well. People have criticized CCF and Cat Haven for making money off of cheetahs – do you know that Harnas breeds cats for sale internationally and the Africat also takes tourists into their facility. I have no problem with any of these institutions because I believe that non-releaseable cats are a strong ambassador for their species and for freedom. As a matter of fact I have visited most of them personally and find them to be leaders in care and eduction.
3 – It is human encroachment and land use changes that are affecting the survival of cheetahs. Our research looks at management of wildlife in collaboration with KWS to support their efforts to keep wild animals in the wild. I endorsed the proposal from Cat Haven three years ago. Six months after the endorsement, the KWS director issued a letter stating that KWS would assist in the development of the Cat Haven facility to take the pressure off of the Nairobi Orphanage. Dale and Wendy have worked quietly and patiently to assure that all funds and plans are in place in order to file the appropriate applications to NEMA and the county council for permission to proceed with this facility. I endorsed Cat Haven because they understand that cat ambassadors are a strong voice for their wild cousins. They know that captive cheetahs can save the species through being a voice that the wild cheetahs can’t have. The very activities that you criticize Cat Haven and CCF for, are the activities that raise hundreds and thousands of dollars for Harnes, Endangered Wildlife Trust, Cheetah Conservation Botswana, Cheetah Conservation Fund, Cheetah Outreach and, yes, also for Action for Cheetahs in Kenya…. for our programmes that supply hundreds of in country jobs, community programmes and in some cases care of orphaned or injured cheetahs.
4 – The cheetah lure courses that so many of you are upset about is not a training for potential release, but is a part of cheetah health. When cheetahs are in captivity they do not get the exercise needed and they often develop stomach ulcers. Studies are showing that adequate exercise is essential for meat digestion. Studies also show that cheetahs that are handled in public presentations have lower stress than those that are left idle in cages and either are not or cannot be handled. For captive cheetah breeding programmes in zoos, those cheetahs that are handled also have a higher potential for reproduction and successful raising of cubs since handlers can assist the mothers without stress.
I have done nothing wrong. Even for those of you who believe that I did turn the Mara cubs into KWS and insist that the cubs be removed. I thank you for giving me this much power. I thank you for recognizing that my role in Kenya is to support KWS and to assist them with cheetah management. And that, my friends, means that I am essential in cheetah conservation in Kenya.
I need to get on with my work in saving wild cheetahs. Please know that I am doing this with a clear conscience knowing that the cubs are in good hands – could the care be improved… yes, we are always improving. Take your passion and your energy to a positive place. Help KWS improve their facilities, ask KWS to look at applications for cheetah care and release facilities (including the one at the Mara!) and to approve them. Assist those facilities to have the most updated care and release protocols in place. Assist the organizations that are also helping to keep wild animals wild!
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