Today is World Tourism Day so it’s fitting that this last blog post of our trip to Namibia is about a very special visit to the Cheetah Conservation Fund. One of the reasons we travel is to learn more about the places we visit. Not just the history and culture but what challenges they face today and when possible, find a way to help and give back. Travelling is one of the best ways to gain an understanding and empathy for others as well as care about preserving the environment and the flora and fauna that depend on it. Or course, our tourist dollars definitely help but more and more tour operators are partnering with organizations that help local people and in our case, wildlife. This tour not only allowed us to see the beauty of Namibia but we got to see first-hand the hard work that goes into conservation here.
The Cheetah Conservation Fund was founded in 1990 by Dr. Laurie Marker, an American transplant who is passionate about making sure this iconic animal doesn’t disappear (there are less than 7000 left!). Not only does CCF help educate the local population and tourists but it works with local farmers by breeding Anatolian Shepherd dogs to help protect their herds. Having a guard dog means less livestock loss and less likelihood a farmer will shoot a cheetah to defend his herd (which is legal). They have a model goat farm to help train the dogs and from that, they create goat’s milk soap, cheese and ice cream (yum!).
They also have the only fully-equipped genetics laboratory at an in-situ conservation site in Africa. Not only do they test blood and tissue samples but they have dog trainers that are able to help find cheetah scat and get DNA samples from that. It was really interesting to learn all the research that goes on and the hard work it takes to get samples and data.
Another amazing initiative is the Bush Blok project. Thorn trees are in abundance in Namibia and make it difficult for grazing animals as well as predators like cheetahs to move around. By cutting back the thorn trees, chipping them and compressing them into logs and charcoal brickettes, they are helping the land, the farmers as well as providing a means of fuel that is environmentally friendly. You can find out more about the project here.
Our group was very impressed by the holistic approach to conservation but of course, the highlight was getting to see cheetahs. The ambassadors, as they call the ones you can see from the visitors’ centre, were all rescued, either from the illegal pet trade or if a farmer killed a mother and reported finding cubs. Each story began with tragedy but the centre has helped many cheetahs survive and thrive over the years. They exercise them either with a lure on a mechanical track or by having them chase a pick-up truck in order to be rewarded with treats and their main meal at the end. We got to witness both. Children under 16 are not allowed into the viewing area for the cheetah run or in the back of the pick up truck when we are in the same area as the cheetahs but my son was able to toss some treats when we were outside the fence and he also helped open the gate to feed the older cheetahs.
With two options for accommodation, the Babson Guest House and Cheetah View Lodge, CCF is able to welcome people for more than just a day trip and I would highly recommend at least one or two nights to really see all that they do. We stayed 4 nights so we also got to have lunch in the bush as well as two sundowner drives. CCF owns over 40000 hectares of land so we got to see zebra, giraffes, ostriches, an eland, jackals and warthogs. There are no elephants or lions but the backdrop of the Waterberg Plateau make it a beautiful place for a safari drive.
The dedicated staff and interns (several from the veterinary medecine program at Guelph University) are what made our visit that much more special. We felt like family. If ever you thought about volunteering, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend doing it at CCF. Other ways to help are by donating or you can sponsor a cheetah, a guard dog as well as buy merchandise. For Canadians, check out cheetah.org/canada. Americans can visit cheetah.org.
Below are a ‘few’ pictures I took. We got to see so much, including a vet check up of a 4 month old rescued cub (she was healthy!) on the morning of our departure. While I hope the instances of having to rescue cubs goes down, it’s great to know places like CCF exist. Thank you to Laurie, Bruce and everyone else at CCF for making this the highlight of one amazing trip!
If you would like to join me next year, we will be repeating this trip (with a few exciting add-ons) in August 2019, please contact us for more information!
If you are in Toronto, I will be doing a talk about this trip on Saturday, September 29, 2018. You can find details here.