What's happening this month?
Something very special began to happen this month! Jasper and Tammy began to form a friendship!
For those of you who know Jasper, he is a very special serval. Due to head trauma shortly following his birth, Jasper was brought to us at Cheetah Experience to have some neonatal care. He suffered from seizures the first week he was with us, and was given a very poor prognosis. Despite all of the odds, a lot of intensive care and a fighting spirit Jasper kept going. His difficult start did not leave him unscathed, Jasper has anxiety, communication problems and some brain damage. These medical conditions mean that he requires an individual care plan.
Once he was stronger he was integrated with a caracal friend so they could grow up together. All seemed to be going so well but because Jasper has communication problems, suddenly there was a misunderstanding between the two and Jasper was now scared of his friend. We spent more than a month trying to rebuild the friendship with various different methods but every session made Jasper more upset.
Jasper grew up alone but from time to time would play with the leopard cubs Aurora and Nova, they were much smaller than him at the time, but there was no point in pursuing this friendship as the leopards would always outgrow him.
After a little bit of time we decided to see if Jasper would be able to make friends with some other friends, but every caracal and serval caused Jasper to get very distressed. He was not scared of dogs but did not know how to play with them and always tried to catch their tail, much to the dogs dismay!
We tried an African wildcat, Jasper was not scared but he was much bigger than the wildcat and that scared the wildcats too much...
Although Jasper still interacted with Aurora and Nova the leopards through the fence he was destined to grow up alone... or so we thought...
Now Jasper has an enclosure but due to his anxiety also stays indoors for a lot of the time, it is his sanctuary and we would allow Jasper to choose if he wanted to go in or be outside.
For 6 years Jasper was alone with only his humans for company till he met Tammy!
Tammy is a domestic cat, a stray born by the meatroom. We managed to trap her and her family while she was still little and take them to a vet to be vaccinated and steralised before releasing them back into their territory. Her mother was wild and dissapeared soon after, as did one of her siblings. For whatever reason Tammy and her sister Marmite decided to stick around. They would hover on the outskirts of the meatroom area, waiting patiently till everyone went home to see if there was any scraps. Pretty soon we started to put out water for them, we named them, and also started to feed them, even though we weren't supposed to. Our stray colony grew as the word got out that there was food being put out, we managed to trap most of the cats and steralise/vaccinate them. Tammy and Marmite were the most consistent but they would not allow us to touch them... They got closer and closer over time and eventally after 1 year of visiting us, Tammy suddenly decided we were ok humans and now we can be friends. Marmite followed about 3 months later!
Tammy visited us almost daily over the next year, she loved people and started to jump against our legs! She and her sister became very sweet cats! When we bought the new land and began to build the enclosures we talked about what we would do with them... As the final moving date grew closer it became more important that we made a decision. It was a hard decision, do we take them from their home and move them to an unfamiliar area where there are baboons and other threats, they had never lived in a house would it be fair to lock them inside in the beginning... Or did we leave them where they were comfortable after feeding them for so long... In the end we decided that the answer would become clear....
When the cheetahs moved from Bloemfontein to Bela Bela in September 2020 it meant that the yard was now free of cheetahs. The area between the meatroom and the lapa was now safe for the cats to explore and Tammy soon made her way to the lapa and volunteer room. She began to hang around there daily Monday to Friday, then at the weekends would be back at the meatroom. She did this for a few weeks almost like she was trying to persuade her sister to join her, but eventually did not return to the meatroom and became a lapa cat.
This showed us that she wanted to be around us and she took the decision to come with us from our hands!
Living in the lapa area meant that she came face to face with Jasper when he was on the way to or from his enclosure! We were not sure how both would react but the meeting was inevitable! Jasper wears a harness and leash to walk over to the enclosure so we were not too concerned, but did worry that either of the cats may be. As it turned out Jasper was very excited to investigate Tammy, he would rush over to her, Tammy meanwhile didn't seem to worried unless Jasper was a bit much, then she would gently smack him with her paw. This always confused Jasper, who was the funny little cat that wasn't scared of him and slapped him!
Over the next weeks the pair would seek each other out daily, they became more comfortable and confident around each other. Jasper was always on his leash to ensure that he didn't get too excited. Tammy started to make use of the house when Jasper was
outside in his enclosure and was often found sleeping on the sofa or bed. We were still unsure as to wether Jasper and Tammy would ever be able to be together unsupervised, but they made the decision themselves one day when Tammy refused to leave the house and Jasper wanted to come home. We decided to take a leap of faith and allowed them to be together in the house. They honestly surprised us all, Jasper was super excited to have Tammy at home with him and was very much following her every step! Tammy took it all in her stride and despite the communication problems that Jasper has, they learned to understand each other in the times they met outside. That night Jasper and Tammy both slept next to each other on the bed. From that day on Tammy stayed in the house every single night and their friendship grew stronger and stronger. After about a week Jasper started to relax and allow Tammy some space, he still followed her but he did not have to follow her every step. She is very tolerant and patient with him and has learned his funny quirks and unusual ways.
Watching the friendship form, seeing how Tammy grew to understand Jasper, watching them now play together and find comfort in each other just shows you how something remarkable can come from an unexpected place!
A stray cat and a serval with special needs are now best friends and we are lucky enough to have a window into their world!
Lockdown Life Continued...
The pandemic continued far longer than any of us ever imagined...
At first having no volunteers was strange, having no tours was quiet, but then as the weeks and months passed it became the new normal. Our normally bustling farm was quiet.. Our staff team of usually 6 to 8 people was down to 3 for a while, then to 2 after the cheetahs moved in September... We had 2-3 local volunteers and no international volunteers..
For years we had a very structured routine for the animals and volunteers, we knew what happened when, but suddenly there were gaps... No airport trips, no shopping... No one to make lunch for... No staff meetings even had to be held since we were only 3 people who did all of the work together.. We did not have to write a roster or find all of the volunteers before we went to feed the animals... so different to the normality of all the years behind us.
This did not give us a lot of free time however, the gaps were soon filled as tasks took longer to do... There were now no volunteers to help clean enclosures, no help with food preparation or with enclosure maintenance. There were no farm workers to help with tasks such as cutting grass, fixing fences or moving furniture... There was even more work to do and less people to help..
We spent weeks and weeks cutting grass, everything just took so long! But amidst the hard work we kept smiling and continued to have fun!
Months passed, our volunteers were desperate to start to travel again, to help us both in Bloemfontein and Bela Bela, but the borders were closed...
Slowly the lockdowns began to ease and restrictions started to lift... We were able to open again for booked tours as long as we followed the government guidelines. Opening for tours again was a great help and we were inundated with calls and bookings, with only 2 staff members life was hectic!
This time in our lives was definitely crazy and hectic, but we got through it and came out the other side unscathed! (just a lot tired!!)
As the news of the Covid-19 pandemic began to filter through to the staff and volunteers via social media and concerned friends/family it became clear that this virus was going to change the world.
We encouraged the volunteers to contact their flight centres and agencies for advice on how best to proceed. Some were advised to return home as soon as possible, while others were told not to worry, and wait on further advice before making a decision.
Our advice to the volunteers was to return home, no one could yet tell how this situation would play out, but the news showed that the death and infection rates were rapidly rising.
The majority of our volunteers quickly organised to change their flights, there was a lot of tears and anxiety. They didn’t want to go home early, but they were also worried about the possibility of staying and not being able to leave. Some were concerned about their family at home, others worried about getting sick in Africa. We even had a few volunteers that were determined to stay no matter what the outcome but on the advice from their embassy to return to their home countries they packed up ready to leave early. In the end we were left with 2 volunteers – Ron and Linda Goose, who decided to stay until their booked departure date.
During their last 2 weeks we were a small team, 5 staff members, 1 South African doing work experience, Riana and the Gooses.
The farm was a very quiet place, very different to the normal hustle and bustle life with volunteers. On average we normally have around 12-15 volunteers, 6-8 general farm workers plus an additional 2-4 staff members. So it was a very different and unique experience both for us, and the Gooses.
Having so few people of course did not mean that there was less work to do. Quite the opposite! We had the same amount of work with a lot less people to get it done. Each day was busy from start to finish, there was always something that needed to be done, or someone that needed help. We cut grass, a lot of grass! Then raked up all the cut grass, as well as weeding, fixing things, feeding the animals, cleaning enclosures, animal enrichment and all of the other day to day tasks.
The volunteers who had travelled home all arrived safely and messaged daily to say they wished they were still here helping with the daily poop scooping, meat preparation and feeding.
Life at Cheetah Experience exists as a kind of bubble, where most of the time is spent between the volunteer house and the farm, with the staff and volunteers only really leaving to go shopping and for social events. In light of the uncertainty at the time, we had already restricted social events and outings to minimise any risk to our volunteers and staff. This meant that on their return home, many of the volunteers really struggled with the reality of the situation particularly with the discussion of implementing a lockdown like some other countries had. Faced with the prospect of being stuck at home with little to do, the volunteers thoughts returned to Africa where they knew we would be struggling to get through all the work each day. Sharing photos, memories and stories helped get the volunteers through the withdrawal period, but wasn’t ever going to be as good as being in Africa of course..
As the time passed it became clear that the situation in the world was a very serious one, Ron and Linda tried several times to reschedule their flight to an earlier date. In total they booked 3 flights and all 3 were cancelled! After contacting their Embassy they got seats on a repatriation flight and got ready to leave, just a few days earlier than originally planned. Both Ron and Linda said that although the experience of being the only two volunteers at Cheetah Experience was a strange one, they also felt privileged to be a part of such a close knit team. They were able to spend lots of time with both the staff and the animals and see first hand how the team rally’s together in situations like this.Waving off the Gooses as they drove out the gate with their masks on and permits in hand was a very difficult day. Our little pride had to say goodbye to 2 very special people, and now we were down to just the 7 of us. Ron and Linda both arrived home in the UK safely and filled us in daily with their local news.
Back on the farm life carried on as normal, only now the already busy days became busier. Surprisingly maybe we managed every single day to get everything done, its amazing to see how people really do pull together in difficult times. We reorganised the day in a way that would make everything more streamlined and manageable. Feeding times were changed so that everyone could help, grass cutting was an all in activity, where everyone had a part to play. Some nights we were even slaughtering a carcass (or 3) by torchlight, keeping the mood positive as the night got darker and colder.
The spirit on the farm remains positive, people are smiling and happy as they go about their work. We are here for the animals, we love what we do, and we do it with pleasure. There is nothing more rewarding than to watch the animals enjoy fresh meat that you struggled with the night before, or snuggle into a freshly made straw bed. The animals make every struggle, every worry, and every aching muscle worth it..
Green Green Grass
Bloemfontein has been lucky enough to experience a lot of rain in the last month. The last few years we have been in a drought state so the rain has been welcomed with opened arms!
For the first time in years the grass is growing faster than we can cut it!! A lot of our time is spent cutting enclosures, and clearing up the grass! It has been great to see the animals enjoying the really tall grass and cooler days!
Some of the animals enjoy the rain more than others :) With the wolves and leopards running and playing, while the servals and caracals prefer to shelter and watch the weather from a nice dry vantage point!
Long may it continue!!
Christmas at Cheetah Experience
How do we celebrate Christmas at Cheetah Experience?
In the lead up to Christmas we are really busy with guided educational tours (as it is the school holidays), as well as training and inducting new volunteers (There are many old and new faces joining us for Christmas). We decorate the Christmas tree in the lapa that has been growing here since we arrived. It is now as you can imagine really tall, so decorating it can be quite a challenge!! But also lots of fun! It usually involves driving one of the cars round to the lapa and balancing a ladder on or against the car, while sending up someone small to hang decorations! The staff and volunteers wear Christmas hats and we sing and have fun while we decorate!
Every year we also build a snowman! Just because the sun shines doesn't mean we shouldn't have a snowman!! Boris as he is named, is made out of cardboard boxes and paper mache, then painted before he is adorned with a festive hat and a carrot nose!
Our next task is to prepare Christmas themed enrichment for the animals! The volunteers get their creative hats on and get to work building, painting and creating special gifts for the animals to enjoy, (and destroy!!!)
As well as enjoying the festivities of the modern world, we of course remember the real reason that Christmas is celebrated.
Christmas is a time of reflection, a time to celebrate God's love for the world and for each and every one of us.
A time to give up one's very self – to think only of others – how to bring the greatest happiness to others – that is the true meaning of Christmas."
Introducing Dakota and Athena
As you all know Nikita was very close to her sister Shakira. For the last year we had been monitoring both sisters health and behaviour. It became clear that if we lost one, the other would struggle emotionally. Shakira and Nikita had lived together for 11 years so the loss of one would be a huge shock to the other. Knowing this, we discussed what would be the best option. The outcome of these discussions were that we would look for two puppies to introduce to the pack. This would not only increase the pack number but would also bring in new energy and would offer reassurance to both Nikita and Shakira.
In June we collected Athena and Dakota and after a quarantine period, we began the introduction process. From the very first introduction Shakira was interested. She was friendly and gentle towards the pups and accepted them into her environment. As the weeks went on, the pups began to spend more time in the enclosure with Shakira and Nikita. The interactions were always positive and soon we no longer had to supervise them. During this time it became clear that Shakira's health was deteriorating and we did not have long left with her. On the 16th of September, Shakira was sadly laid to rest. In the weeks following, the relationship between Nikita and the pups began to form. It took a few weeks for the new pack structure to fully develop and now the three are best of friends. It was obvious that the pups helped Nikita through the grieving process and offered her the reassurance that we hoped.
We spayed 2 of our caracal females Mercury and Sasha at the Cheetah Experience vet clinic to prevent any behavioural issues or broken friendships. Caracals are very territorial and can be aggressive if another is in oestrus within the enclosure or close by.
Not only will this help our caracals to maintain their friendships and live peacefully but also eliminates the risk of developing pyometra and reduces the risk of future health complications such as cancer. We plan to sterilise Saturn as soon as Mercury has recovered.