Monday, December 20, 2010
This morning I was able to go out on a trip to find Duma in the Life Line Project area. She's one of the cheetahs who wears a radio collar and goes out in this huge but fenced area to live a life as free as possible (along with the cheetah Pride). Pride is out full time now, but Duma is on "soft release" which means she goes out for a couple of days and we check on her to make sure she's eating (that is, making kills) and then she comes in for a few days.
She'd been out for about 2 days, so it was time to check on her. Six of us went. I stood in the back of a truck with three others and we held a big antenna attached to a receiver, moving it back and forth across the road as we drove, waiting for the "beep beep" that would indicate she's close.
We had to drive around on dirt roads for an hour (the Life Line is very big--around 8000 hectares) until we heard the first beep. Then it took another 30 minutes of going slower and Herman standing out on the road with the antenna, trying to narrow down our search so we could find her.
Finally we located her lying under a big shady tree in a meadow by a place called the Dam House. It has a water hole and lots of game (we saw wildebeest, springboks, and warthogs). And best of all, she had her lunch with her under the tree--a recently killed small wildebeest. So her hunting had been successful!
We got out of the truck and walked over to her. She looked up at us and walked over to her kill and started munching--as if to let us know that it was hers. Then, she did the coolest thing: she looked up at us and purred--as if to say, "Yup, this is what I've done, and I'm mighty proud of myself."
We all stood at an appropriate distance and told her how proud we all were of her, what a good girl she was, and how amazing she is. (After all, Duma was hand raised. She had no mother to show her how to hunt, no other cheetah to watch as a role model. She figured it out all on her own, and that is a great achievement--to go from a tame, hand-raised cheetah to a full-on hunter.)
Then we got back in the truck and went home. With both Duma and Pride (who was also hand-raised) able to fend for themselves in the wild, Harnas takes a big step toward the release of many animals that it was believed couldn't be released again. This is only the beginning!