As we enter the gate we see three cheetahs in a pen no bigger than half a football field. It’s a private zoo. A zoo without any of the things that a zoo has like regulations and competent personnel. One of our companions thinks that Jess and I are being cynical and we can’t really know how this operation runs. I think she’s in denial. This might be her only chance to see these beautiful creatures and she’s spent a lot of money getting here. Here we are at South African owned guest house in Namibia where once-wild animals are kept in cages. A gimmick to get people here.
Our guides pitched the place as a way to see the elusive brown hyena, the nocturnal caracal, two leopards and several cheetahs. They were convinced that the guesthouse was doing the right thing by the animals and there were plans to re-release them into the wild. One of the guides did concede that last time she was here the Hyena pen was depressingly small and the animal paces all day.
Jess and I decline as do three others in the group. We sit on the grass and wait while our companions tour the facility.
The slippery slope I see is: the more that guest houses acquire animals to improve their business, the worse it’ll become for animals. If the gimmick works, then it becomes and escalation vector in the competitiveness between lodges. All lodges will require at least one animal. The guest houses with the most of one type of animal; with animals as pets or; the most variety of animals will make the most money. The animals will suffer. A black market will spring up with people capturing animals in national parks and then selling them to lodges claiming that they are farmers and the animal is on their lands.
Cheetahs being shot on the land of farmers is the main claim for concern from those who keep cheetahs on as pets/exhibits.
The next place we stay at has five tame cheetahs as pets. They also have a dozen or so "wild" cheetahs. These are not really wild, but they are not domesticated either. Being fed everyday means they have lost their hunting edge. In the wild a cheetah loses about half of all it’s kills. Even a lone hyena will get the meal. The cheetah would rather walk away. A fight might result in an injury. An injury might limit it’s top speed. Without that, the cheetah will starve to death.
The cheetahs waiting to be fed squabble and mew. The sound is weak coming from such a big animal. They sound and act like house cats waiting to be fed. I get to talk to one of the handlers while the feeding is going on. He’s leaning back on the truck speaking with a thick South African accent.
He tells me that the cheetahs are not going to be released back into the wild. He tells me the national parks are worried about the animals having diseases so they won’t accept them back. They get the animals from farmers who say the cheetahs are eating their sheep and goats. Most farmers will shoot the cheetahs and the owner of the place did as well until he decided not to. Twenty years ago he switched from being a cheetah shooting farmer to being a conservationist.
The handler then goes on tell me that there isn’t any real conservation efforts going on and any law brought in saying it’s illegal to kill cheetahs them will result in the farmers shooting and then burying the cheetahs.
Here’s a quote from the Cheetah Conservation Fund’s (CCF) website:
"CCF’s renowned Livestock Guarding Dog Program has been highly effective at reducing predation rates and thereby reducing the inclination by farmers to trap or shoot cheetahs. CCF breeds Anatolian shepherd and Kangal dogs, breeds that for millennia have guarded small livestock against wolves and bears in Turkey. The dogs are placed with Namibian farmers as puppies. They bond with the herd and use their imposing presence and loud bark to scare away potential predators."
And how’s that going?:
"CCF has been placing dogs since 1994 and our research shows the dogs are highly effective, reducing livestock loss from all predators by over 80 and up to 100 percent."
"Farmers have enthusiastically embraced the program, and there is now a two year waiting list for puppies. CCF had placed nearly 500 dogs by the end of 2013. CCF research shows that the people’s attitudes towards predators are changing as a result of this and other CCF programs."
What annoyed me most about this little leg of our journey is that we were taken to two guest houses with cheetahs with pets. Both on the same day we drove past the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF). We didn’t stop there. It didn’t got a mention.