I had a phone call from Azwifarwi, my field assistant, early one morning recently to say that there was a Cheetah stuck in his garden. Somehow it had come through the fence and could not get out. We are desperately trying to catch a Cheetah to fit a radio-collar, but this just was not the time. By the time a vet had arrived from town, an hour and a half drive away, we could not be sure the Cheetah would not be long gone, and valuable money would have been wasted. On top of this, the risk of free-darting a moving Cheetah is just too high. The risk of injury is great if the shot is even slightly off target. You have to shoot for the muscle on the rump, which is not a big area on a cat like a Cheetah, and as Cheetahs have very low density bones (to assist with speed), they are very susceptible to breaks. The dart guns that the vets use are powered by gas, which is adjustable in pressure. The problem is that you have to find the perfect trade-off between accuracy and impact. If the pressure is turned down too far, the impact may be less, but you sacrifice accuracy as the shot may arc through the air and be moved off course by the wind. On the other hand, the higher pressure required for an accurate shot means the dart hits the animal hard, and may cause injury if it is off target. It is not a job to be taken lightly, and we only use vets experienced in this work to help us.
It seemed like a perfect opportunity, but the welfare of the animals is paramount, so we are continuing with our trapping efforts.