Thursday, December 13, 2012

Nambiti Wildlife Sanctuary – Jeremy Williamson

Rob Le Sueur has achieved some amazing accomplishments, one being the conceptualising and establishment of the Nambiti Game Reserve at Elandslaagte near Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal. Here we have a Big Five game reserve with in addition, cheetah. This Game Reserve is fast becoming a real asset for this Province. 

The fortunes of the cheetah in the Game Reserve have, as in so many other private game parks, been subjected to the impact of the other key predators in the reserve, and sadly, the healthy population of cheetah has declined, with only one male remaining. I am sure that this is what has prompted Rob Le Sueur to investigate the possibility of increasing Africa’s cheetah population, with his new initiative to breed these so endangered big cats, at Nambiti.

We recently visited Des and Elizke at work,  and can see that this appears to be a responsible attempt to secure the future of all the cats in their care. Large safe enclosures house the increasing population of orphaned / abandoned / confiscated felines.

Des on the left discussing his project with guests

Des and Elizke Gouws have been entrusted with the day to day operation of the centre – quite a handful, what with having to Manage the lovely adjacent Woodlands Lodge in the Nambiti Game Reserve, as well.
The new enclosures  are all situated within a 30 ha fenced area, electrified – on the outside - to keep the lion away. The lion have already caused the demise of enough of these beautiful endangered cats. Inside this enclosure, are a number of fenced pens, which will keep the various species apart and will be used for the breeding of cheetah and rehabilitation of the other cats.

Lana with Storm

Des has already had success and 4 cubs have been born as a result of this project. Quite something for such early results – these cheetah must be happy in their environment.
On the occasions I have visited, the animals appear to be in superb condition. I believe that Des takes great pains in securing fresh, appropriate venison for the cats, which in turn has all necessary supplements added. This is where most of the money from visitations goes to, the care and proper feeding of the inmates. Well inmates indeed, but for some, for not too long a period before they are properly rehabilitated and set free in a suitable environment.

Nambiti Hills Head Ranger Brett Hoy and cubs

Lee Williamson interacting with a serval

Lana and I accompanied Des and Elizka on a training hunt with Sky and Storm – to see how the cats we had been caressing, and they, so tenderly responding, became  hunters in the long grass - this showed us that rehabilitation should certainly be possible !  The two bailed out of the back of the bakkie and we all immediately started towards some distant wildebeest.  

Still a fair distance away the two would crouch, move forward and try and close the rather considerable gap between themselves and their intended prey. The wildebeest were rather skittish due to a dog poaching attack earlier that morning, so the normal stalk and chase did not work too well on this occasion.

Free ?

It did a few days later though, to positive effect, when they caught their first impala. Pets – no, hunters in the wild, yes! This can and does work.

Cheetah on the run - on the chase
Lana Williamson commiserating with Sky after the unsuccessful chase

Then to the hand reared leopard cub. This one I am not too sure about. The future of Vega is not as yet finalised, but he could be destined for release when he is a little more capable of fending for himself, especially against another territorial male leopard out there. Such a magnificent animal, we really need to do all we can to stop the leopard persecution.


Vega stalking Des

The Wildlife Sanctuary is adjacent to the Woodlands car park which makes for easy day visitor access. Most of the Lodges in the Nambiti Game Reserve endorse this project and can make arrangements for their guests to visit – this is normally during the after breakfast break from normal Lodge activities. All relatively new a concept, so there are still numerous logistical matters to be ironed out. How would guests from other Lodges participate in one of the cheetah walks? Or would that be only for guests at Woodlands?
A coffee house with possible meal facilities is presently under construction at the facility, and having had the pleasure of enjoying the food and coffee at Woodland Lodge I am sure that standard will prevail here  too.
So in principal, all looks good for the future of this initiative, and in time, with the successful release of some of the cubs, as they grow old enough to fend for themselves, the continued success with producing healthy cheetah cubs and the rehabilitation of the other cats, so the success of all this hard work will be able to be fairly assessed.

Caracal cub
Serval's 'eyes'

 The serval are interesting - Des was explaining how the distinctively marked ears are also used to deter predators  sneaking up from behind. Predators normally freeze on being seen when hunting, well if they start getting close to a serval and those ears pop up, they could so easily be thought to be eyes in the heat of the stalk, and the predator freezes and the serval gets away. Evolution is amazing !

So many snippets of information could be learned at such a venue and it is hoped that  from children to adults, who have not been exposed to our wild cats, can have an opportunity here, to learn more, and possibly see that protecting and conserving these lesser known animals for the future, could benefit all. For those who are already au fait with Africa's cats, what a lovely way to really get close to these very endearing animals. Maybe its already nearly too late to get close to Vega. He plays rough.
We wish them well.

Photographs by Jeremy, Lana and Lee Williamson – what a team !

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