Cheetah Kingdom

Friday, 24 September 2010, 8:00PM – 8:30PM on ITV1

Director of Park Research, AJ, has been tasked with tracking the first five cheetahs that were released. He soon spots them and has some good news which he’s keen to share with Dave and Carla. He says: “I just got a quick look and came down and saw them actually eating something, got close and saw it was a steenbok.”

For Carla, the cheetahs’ first kill makes all of her hard work worthwhile. She says: “I’m actually stunned. Stunned that they have managed this within the first 24 hours. I really didn’t expect it. It’s a wonderful surprise.”

Cyclops is an elusive five year old male cheetah and the release programme’s most challenging cat. Rescued after being trapped by farmers at the age of four, he avoids human contact whenever possible. Once released, he should do well in the reserve but when he was rescued, Cyclops was suffering with glaucoma in one eye. If his condition has deteriorated, he might have to undergo surgery to have the eye removed.

Dave needs to anaesthetize him, but has to use a box trap to lure him in with a piece of meat. He says: “I’m just going to go quickly in there, dart him, get him down so he’s less stressed…then Mark the vet can have a look at his eye.”

After anaesthetizing him Mark and Dave have to move quickly to get him to the clinic. Mark the vet checks his eye and it’s good news for Cyclops: “Obviously it’s not ideal but there’s no need to remove the eye. It’s not causing him a problem so I’d rather leave it alone than put him through anything else which is unnecessary. He’s learnt to hunt with one eye and it’s one of those natural things that happens.”

Cyclops will have a second chance at freedom and be able to be released. But for now, he’s taken to a shady area to recover from his ordeal.

In the last episode viewers met Quattro, the cheetah cub who had been hit by a car and suffered a broken leg. Today he’s having x-rays on it and Dave says: “Hopefully it doesn’t come to it but it could well come to the fact that it’s not saveable and then it has to be euthanized.”

If Quattro’s leg is too severely fractured, it could be amputated but he’d have no chance in the wild. Cheetahs rely on their speed and agility to bring down prey and if the leg can’t be saved, the kindest thing would be to put him to sleep. But
the x-rays make for shocking viewing. There are multiple breaks along Quattro’s leg and, on closer examination, the vet discovers broken bone fragments within the leg joint.

The vet carries out a complex operation on him, tackling the clean breaks along the length of his leg bone before pinning and wiring the broken bone fragments back into alignment. It’s going to be a long and drawn out procedure and there’s still no way of knowing if it will work. The life of this young cheetah cub will be determined in the coming hours.

Friday, 10 September 2010, 8:00PM – 8:30PM on ITV1

This brand new series gives viewers a unique insight into both the conservation and behaviour of one of the fastest mammals on earth – the cheetah.

Cheetah Kingdom focuses on the rescue, rehabilitation and release of this African big cat and follows the largest cheetah release programme attempted in Namibia, a country that is home to roughly a quarter of the world’s cheetah population, where they’re routinely trapped by farmers protecting their land.

The series follows Dave Houghton, an ex-pat Brit and former cameraman turned conservationist, and looks at the incredible work of dedicated staff at the AfriCat Foundation, in the spectacular Okonjima Game Reserve. Viewers also get a taste of Dave’s unique life at Okonjima with his partner Carla where even the nearest food shop is an hour’s drive away.

This first episode follows the early stages of the release of a group of cheetahs which Dave and Carla have cared for since they were cubs. It’s an emotional and risky procedure as the cats prepare for their new life in the wild and there’s a threat that one of the older cats won’t pull through after an anaesthetic.

The four male and two female cheetahs, that are currently in a small enclosure, are now mature enough to be given a second chance in the wild. Females usually live and hunt separately from males but this group have lived together since they were cubs and formed an unusual bond. Dave arrives with their food and jokes: “They never learn. They get fed five times a week and they still don’t learn that they get one piece each and don’t have to fight over it!”

Coco, one of the two female cheetahs, has little fear of humans as she was captured from the wild as a cub and raised as a pet. The team at Okonjima stepped in when her owner failed to feed her properly. Her companion Bones has another story as Carla, the director of welfare explains: “His mother was shot by a hunter and he really was a bag of bones when he came here. As a result he has a real love of food and he has never forgotten that.”

In just over a week these cheetahs will be released into a 40,000 acre wildlife reserve designed to give cats like Bones a second chance at life in the wild. The first stage of the release is to transfer the group to a holding area, but to do that each cheetah has to be darted and then transferred to AfriCat’s clinic for a health check and vaccinations. They will also be fitted with radio collars. Carla says: “They have to be collared because we have to monitor them on a daily basis.”

Once the cheetahs are darted, the race is on. Cheetahs are unable to regulate their body temperature when under anaesthetic and with temperatures reaching 80 degrees the team cover them in cool wet towels and a shade cloth before heading to the clinic.

The thirty resident cheetahs, who are too old or infirm to be released, are also having check ups and one of them, Cassie, is overheating. AfriCat director Tammy Hoth and the team need to get his temperature down as soon as possible. They use fans and water to cool him while monitoring his temperature and prepare to give him intravenous fluids. Cassie’s temperature hits 41.6 and if it goes any higher, it could be fatal. When Carla finally announces that it is dropping the team move fast to carry out his vaccinations and health check before putting him on a drip and monitoring him for the rest of the day.

Bones and Coco are vaccinated and given radio collars while Dave and AfriCat Vet Mark Jago return with the dart gun for the other cheetahs. Coco’s siblings Frankie and Spud are darted followed by five year old Hammer and his sister Tongs before being brought to the clinic.

AfriCat’s founder Wayne Hanssen arrives to see the team working on the cheetahs. He built the reserve from a barren landscape and the cheetah release has been his dream. He says: “We are doing this as a team. But after this there’s a big pow wow about the most important thing – it’s all about the new set of cats going into their new environment.”

Once they’ve recovered from their anaesthetic, Coco and the others are heading out to a five acre purpose built ‘soft’ release camp where they’ll stay for a few days. This allows the team to ensure that the cheetahs haven’t suffered any ill effects from the anaesthetic and gives the cats time to acclimatise to their new environment.

Dave says: “Everyone’s really excited, especially the humans. All the team want to see them go into their new camp and the start of their new lives.”

The cheetahs race out of their cages and have a good look around their new environment. For Dave, Carla and the team this is the first stage of a programme that is the culmination of years of hard work. Dave says: “We’ve raised them and looked after them, and once they get out there. They’ve got a lot of learning to do. Hopefully they’re going to get it right.”

In just ten days time the gates of the holding enclosure will open and the cheetahs’ challenge will begin.

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