Thursday, January 24, 2008

Would You Rather Date a Cheetah or a Cougar?

Anyone from Vancouver, or those who have visited, will have first hand experience of the social disfunction that plagues our fair city's dating scene. Here's a couple of choice responses I've received from friends back home over the past days.

The first is the latest article by a dear freind, fellow writer, and a lovely girl who's to good to be single - Vancouver Guys Suck Ass. The second is just a great piss take of your's truly:

Wow very fun and nice pictures as well. I could not help but giggle a bit
at trying to find parallel opportunities here in the urban wasteland. The whole
story might of read quite differently.

Title: Cougars at Sammy J. Peppers

From: Vancouver Urban Fashionista.

Catching a glimpse of one Vancouver’s trickiest land animals.

“The bar began in 2005, when the owners faced a huge problem with the number of single available women in Vancouver. In the course of one year, cougars number in the thousands took out 38 men and boys, plus an additional four families of elves on Robson. But ratherthan dispersing the cougars, as is both sanctioned and encouraged by the local authorities, they opted instead to capture them - a decision they credit as having changed the course of men’s lives forever.”

You can see the parallels here. Take care man. :)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Cheetah Pets & Cheetah Predators

The past week saw one of the most impressive and unexpected stops on the tour so far - the Otjitotongwe Cheetah Park in Namibia.

Until then I hadn't caught so much of a glimpse of the world's fastest land animal, and as I said to a travel mate, I might as well pack up and go home if I couldn't see one here.

The farm began in 1994, when the Nel family faced a huge problem with the big cats. In the course of one year, cheetahs took out 38 sheep and goats, plus an additional four calves on the family farm. But rather than shooting the cheetahs, as is both sanctioned and encouraged by the Namibian Nature Conservation, they opted instead to capture them - a decision they credit as having changed the course of their lives forever.

A pregnant female was among the captured cats, and when three of the five cubs survived birth, the family adopted them as house pets and decided to turn their working ranch into a private reserve for the protection of cheetahs. Today, the fenced reserve spans 250 hectares and provides a safe home for 22 wild cheetahs, in addition to their three current house pets.

Time spent with the 'domestic' ones was almost surreal, while at the same time feeling utterly safe. They began purring like idling Volkswagens as soon as we arrived, and all in we had about 45 minutes to spend with them in the Nels' backyard. As risky as you'd think the experience might be, there really was minimal (if any) danger. Cheetahs are specialized for speed and are notoriously weak compared to other big cats. In the wild, they will often get bullied off their kill by lions or hyenas, and although 'big' they stand at about the same height as standard sized dog. They were even left free to play with the family's Jack Russel, doing no more to it than rolling it end over end if it got to yappy or in their face.

After the visit with the house cats we survived an hour long deluge before piling into the back of a pick-up truck for feeding time in the wild reserve. These cheetahs were an entirely different story. Unlike their domestic cousins, these were fit, lean predators in the prime of their lives. Just one hundred yards into the fenced off reserve we were surrounded by no less than a dozen active, pacing animals with no more than the open rail of the truck bed between us and them. I never felt more like a cow being led to the slaughter than at that moment.

But again, it was surprising how little of a threat they were, despite all appearances. The guides stepped directly out of the truck armed with nothing more than a small stick about the size of a conductor's wand - just a prop to make themselves look a bit bigger in the face of a couple bluff charges by the more aggressive cats. Once on the ground, they hauled out the garbage bin of fresh donkey meat that had been riding in the back with us and gave each a healthy 2kg chunk.

I realize that all sorts of people have a problem with keeping big cats or other wild animals as pets. I've never endorsed it, but in secure grounds in the middle of nowhere I could see no harm. All of the cheetahs were in immaculate health, and the service the Nels are providing in giving these animals a safe habitat in the face of the farmers' rifle puts them far beyond most cheetah conservation efforts, particularly the Namibian government who continues to sanction their killing.

All in their are just 7,500 cheetahs remaining in the world, but through their "pest control" policy, the Namibian government endorses the killing of up to 500 to 600 every year. Meanwhile, the Nels are looking to greatly expand their efforts. Eventually, they aim to have their entire 7,500 hectare farm securely fenced for the benefit of the cats. It was more than a pleasure to leave them with a donation towards that effort. The cost of fencing is about $50 Namibian Dollars (about $7 per km), and every square meter of land included in the reserve means a better life for the cheetahs who live there, and more room to transfer other cats that are facing a death sentence on local livestock farms.

For more information on the Otjitotongwe Cheetah Park, see the complete contact details below.



Tollie & Roeleen Nel
Otjitotongwe Cheetah Park
PO Box 60
Kamanjab, Namibia
Phone: 09 264 67 687056
Email: cheetahs@iway.na or Mario@cheetahpark.com
http://www.cheetahparknamibia.com

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Safari in South Luangwa

When you say the word 'safari' most thoughts turn to the endless plains of Tanzania's Serengeti. But where the Serengeti can be likened to driving a sports car on a four lane superhighway, Zambia's South Luangwa National Park is the safari equivalent of a motorcycle ride through a winding country road.

Covering 9,050 square kilometers along the Luangwa River, South Luangwa is a gem. It boasts large herds of giraffe, buffalo, impala, abundant populations of crocodiles and hippos, and of course, elephants. Thousands of them. And unlike traveling with the overpopulated tourists hoards in the Serengeti, the open jeep tours here bring you in direct contact with the environment like few other safari's can. Roadways are narrow and unobtrusive, and in the rainy month of January the sparse forests and grasslands are in full, vividly green bloom.

South Luangwe is also a bit of a success for conservation efforts.

In the 1970s, poaching decimated the park's elephant population to a mere 6,000 animals, but aggressive patrolling and the international ban on ivory trade has helped that number rebound to 16,000 today. Elephants of every age (including stumbling newborns) are constantly within sight, so much so that it's difficult to imagine how dense the herds would have been when the park's original population of 100,000 was intact.

Mother Nature is also lending the elephants her helping hand, proving her wisdom even in the face of mankind's most wanton attempts at destruction. Tuskless elephants have always existed in small numbers, but with selective hunting by ivory hungry poachers, nature is selecting this formerly rare variation in far greater numbers, ensuring that the world's largest herbivor stands a chance of survival even if poaching once again becomes common.

As striking as they were, the elephants were only one half of the surprise and as the hour rolled on towards 6pm, the sun fell below the horizon and the nightime safari began. Hippos emerged from the water to graze in the long grass, and you could feel a tangible shift in power as darkness began to favour the park's predators.
Within ten minutes of nightfall we rounded a bend in the path and our spotlight caught the gleam of feline eyes. It was a leopard, the most elusive and shy of all of Africa's 'big five'. During daylight you're lucky to spot a glimpse of one dozing a hundred yards off in the canopy of a tree, but spinning the jeep around as close as we could the big cat strolled within ten feet of us. It was completely undisturbed by our presence and paused briefly to grant us a photo shoot before moving confidently away towards the unseen (to our eyes) herd of impala collecting in the brush beyond.

Far more terrifying was the awakening pride of lions. The cats strode directly along the sides of our open vehicle, and unlike the leopard, rather boldly surveyed the occupants of the jeep itself, as if casually browsing the menu of a familiar restaurant. The jeeps act as a type of territorial boundary and the presence of the lions is meant to be safe so long as you remain inside. Under no circumstances would I have it any other way.

As immersed as we were during our four hour safari, nature always has something more to offer - sometimes in the most unexpected places.

The next morning while back at the Flatdog campsite on the opposite side of the river, I was sluffing along between the bar and the toilets in half done up sandals when I heard branches breaking off to my left. Twenty yards from the toilets was Uncle Gilbert, a massive bull elephant casually consuming what had formerly been a large healthy bush. he was taking his time grabbing individual branches with his trunk and expertly sawing off moutfuls against his tusks until the bush was satisfactorily plucked clean and he moved away - directly towards the place I was standing.

He hadn't seen me leaning againt the bathroom entrance when he began walking but at ten yards he finally caught sight of me. His ears went up like two sails grabbing the wind, and my entire visual field was instantly filled by a wall of grey flesh. Taking the hint, I kept eye contact while slowly making two long steps back into the toilets. His comfort zone restored, Uncle Gilbert walked off to his next meal.

Exiting the bathroom, I turned towards the bar to do the same.