What's happening this month?
Lockdown Life at Cheetah Experience – Part 1
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 Athena and Dakota
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.
This month our volunteers had spooky fun making all the animals their own jack-o-lanterns!