Exciting News on Sandfontein
Initiated by the dedicated team of N/a’an ku sê was the release of several cheetahs and 1 leopard – altogether 4 animals at Sandfontein.
The following text is taken from the original report and has been adjusted by us:
THE RELEASE OF A LIFETIME
Saturday 25th June saw the beginning of one of the biggest translocation and release programmes ever attempted in Namibia. 7 cheetahs and 1 leopard. 2 release sites, travelling through 3 regions and 7 districts of Namibia. All in 8 days. N/a’an ku sê has never embarked on a challenge to relocate so many big cats at the same time. But we’re never one to shy away from a challenge.
With 4 donated LandRovers, our convoy of cats, staff, volunteers and film crew (Homebrew Productions for Animal Planet), clocked up an incredible 5,268km between them!
Read the incredible events here exclusively:
DAY 4-7: SANDFONTEIN SOFT AND HARD RELEASE
4 cats down, 4 cats to go. The second leg of the trip required a smaller team to manage and so 5 N/a’an ku sê staff and 6 volunteers returned to N/a’an ku sê whilst Rudie, Marlice, Flo (Head of Research), Lucy (Fundraising and Marketing Manager) and Tessa (Wildlife Co-ordinator), together with one volunteer and film crew, commenced the long drive down to Sandfontein. After a 14 hour drive with the Chipmunk cheetahs on the back of one LandRover and the leopard on another, we finally arrive, exhausted yet excited, at our final destination – Sandfontein Nature Game Reserve and Lodge (www.sandfontein.com).
Sandfontein is another new area for N/a’an ku sê as this is our first release on the 80,000 hectare land, edging on the Orange River on the border of South Africa. The location is home to more than 4,000 animals including leopard, cheetah, kudu, eland, zebra, giraffe, springbok, impala and aardvark. It also provides protection to 5 of the world’s extremely endangered black rhino. Our new partners, Willie and Rodica Agenbach, who manage the reserve and lodge, have extensive experience in animal husbandy, particularly with cheetahs and so we know they are the perfect partners to look after our 3 cheetahs in a small boma for the next month or two before they receive their hard release.
The next morning we had our first chance to view the local scenery – rugged and remote, almost untouched by people, rocky hills and mountains, open valleys, sandy riverbeds and small patches of bush combined to form an amazing landscape. Perfect for the leopard and 3 cheetahs we were to release here. After a number of days in cages, we were all eager to release the cats and so on Wednesday 29th June, we drove to the soft boma site set in a stunning valley surrounded by rugged mountains and rocky hills.
The smaller group at the release made it feel much more intimate and Willie and Rodica were given the honor of lifting up the gate on the 3 cheetahs. It only took a few seconds before Simon, the “sensible” one, jumped out of the cage on the back of the Sirtrack branded vehicle, closely followed cautiously by Theodore, the “follower”, while Alvin, the so called “adventurous” one, was last to leave.
Sticking together, they slowly made their way across to the fence and proceeded to explore their new temporary home, surrounded by mountains and wide open space. The transparency of the boma will help these cats really fit into their new environment without feeling too overwhelmed.
We could have stayed watching the cheetahs’ reaction to their new home for hours, but the light was fading and Derek was waiting.
Willie and Rodica led us to a suitable spot for our last and final release. This was the most special moment we had all been waiting for – partly because it was a hard release so we knew we may never see him again and partly because it was a leopard, a truly wild animal which can never be tamed. We chose a spacious plain with nearby hills and set Derek’s cage on the ground and tipped it onto its side so that the gate could be pulled opened from far away. Derek ferociously growled during the move, daring any one of us to mess with him! Once everyone was safely locked inside the vehicles, through the window Rudie pulled the rope attached to the gate to slide it open and off. We all waited, but Derek did not stir.
After around 30 minutes we decided it was best to leave this solitary creature to come out on his own terms, alone. After spending the last few days on the back of a car with strange noises and movements, it is no surprise that the leopard was weary of our presence. 3 of the 5 cars nearby left – Rudie, Marlice and family in one, volunteers, staff in another and the film crew in the third. Just 2 cars remained – a lone cameraman with Flo, and Willie and Rodica, when they saw Derek’s head poke out of the cage, look around, spot the remaining cars and then hide back inside! The sun was setting and finally everyone left Derek to his peace, happy and content in the knowledge that he was going to live a very good life in Sandfontein.
POST-RELEASE NEWS ON OUR CATS
In Sandfontein, the Chipmunks are settling into their boma well, are feeding happily and look very relaxed. Our downloads from Derek’s GPS satellite collar show that he left the cage in the early hours of the morning to move at a gentle pace over the next 4 days and on 5th July, Willie was lucky enough to spot our gorgeous leopard, looking full bellied, sitting relaxed on a mountain hill! He was near the waterhole where we placed the camera trap so hopefully we’ll have snapped him too. (…) The fact that he has successfully hunted and sourced the water supply in the area is a perfect start to his new freedom.
All of us at N/a’an ku se would like to thank every single person, company, foundation and organisation involved in making this release programme such a success. Thank you LandRover for donating the vehicles to make the trip possible, thanks to IdeaWild for donating 2 VHF collars and Claudio Frateschi and Dan Mortimer for donating towards Derek’s GPS satellite collar. Thank you to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism for supporting this release programme and our new partners in conservation – Walter and Simone of Solitaire Guest Farm and Willie and Rodica of Sandfontein Nature Game Reserve and Luxury Lodge. And a huge thanks to all the volunteers and N/a’an ku se staff for caring for these precious cats whilst at our sanctuary and for all their efforts in organising and running the Release of a Lifetime.
We at Sandfontein also want to thank everyone involved for their hard work and dedication! We are proud to be part of this project and are determined to continue the exceptional efforts N/a’an ku se has made for conservation in the past years. We are looking forward to a great partnership!