The Cheetah family that had become split up by one of the cubs finding its way through the reserve boundary fence has been reunited.
On our way to the area where they were last seen calling to each other through the fence, we picked up the tracks of the whole family walking along a road. They are all now on our farm, and outside the boundaries of the formally protected areas. We carried on to see where they had crossed onto our farm, and found holes pushed through the fence very close to where the first cub came through. The tracks on the Venetia side of the fence has been largely obliterated by guinea fowl, which come out to forage in the early morning, so we think they probably crossed over yesterday evening.
The family of cheetahs are safe here, but they are unlikely to stay for long. The fence surrounding the De Beers Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve is an electrified predator fence that is designed to keep predators from crossing it, but often these animals have different ideas. Where the cheetahs crossed, they had simply forced their way through the strands of wire, rather than the more usual method of using holes dug under fences by warthogs. Our fence is not electrified on the three sides that do not form a boundary with Venetia, and so the family will have no trouble in moving on.
My main concern is actually not for their safety with other farmers, but rather their safety on the road. Two boundaries of the farm are with tar roads, and while there is thankfully very little traffic, the traffic that is here tends to be going very fast.
Last year there was a tragic case just south of here where a mother cheetah was killed on the road, and her well-grown cubs, a few months older than these, all stayed around and waited by her body. In a short space of time all three of the cubs were also killed in the same way as their mother. It was tragic. By the time I got a call about it and set off, it was too late. The carcasses were picked up and I tracked two down to a local taxidermy, and the others remained a mystery. Cheetah parts are important for local traditional medicine, and I think they were most likely taken for this.
Cheetahs are very difficult to trap or catch and I do not think hunting for this purpose poses a threat to cheetahs, at least not in this area. Roadkill is, however, a major threat, with our neighbour directly to the north having picked up a dead cheetah outside his gate three months ago.
We need to know what is happening with these cats. As I have mentioned in previous postings, our habitat here is much thicker than typical cheetah habitat, with the bush being too thick in many places to hunt in the normal way of chasing down quarry with a burst of high speed. We need to know how this affects this size of the areas they cheetahs use, what they are eating, and what their survival rates are. GPS collars allow us to plot their movements accurately without habituating them, and we can even use them to collect data on what they are eating. In my experience on a previous project I worked on with cheetahs, they keep moving in the morning and evening unless they have just eaten and want to sleep off their heavy meal. By closely monitoring their movements, it should be possible to see where we think they may have eaten and respond by taking Snoopy to the site and sending him to look for the carcass. He started his career on finding the carcasses left by cheetahs in thick bush, and can be a great deal of use with this as well as looking for scats. I am going to take him out now to walk the road where the cheetahs walked this morning to see if we can find any scats. I will let you know what he turns up.
The GPS collars we need are so essential to this work. Wherever possible we make our equipment ourselves and manage with the cheapest workable options we can find, but in this case we simply do not have the knowledge and technology required and will have to buy in these collars. Any help will be very much appreciated and will have a very positive impact on the work we are doing in this area.