Mara Vet Unit helps an injured Cheetah

The number of Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) in Kenya is not well known and it is estimated to be between five hundred and one thousand according to studies conducted in the national parks and reserves

The number of Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) in Kenya is not well known and it is estimated to be between five hundred and one thousand according to studies conducted in the national parks and reserves. The numbers of this beautiful medium sized carnivore have been declining even further due to a number of factors which include but not limited to; Continuous loss of Cheetah habitat and their preferred prey species due to the burgeoning human population. This in turn has led to the few remaining ones preying on shoats (goats and sheep) and thereby prompting retaliation from angry livestock farmers who hunt them down with bows and arrows or lace the livestock carcasses with poisons killing even other unintended scavenger species. Cheetahs sharing a home range with other carnivores face stiff competition from especially Lions, leopards and Hyenas. They become a target and usually get injured or even killed by these bigger cats. Effects of tourism activities such as loud talking, shouting, use of radio communication by tour drivers and many off-road driving. Sarcoptic mange infestation and numerous injuries due to predation, snaring, or injuries inflicted by prey while hunting. The Masai Mara national reserve is considered to hold a sizeable number of the remaining cheetahs in Kenya. The undulating savanna grassland that is the Mara offers the ideal environment for cheetahs to flourish. But the numerous other carnivores present in this ecosystem is a big threat to the Cheetah and various strategies are being implemented by the various stakeholders to halt the decline and ensure that this important species continues to thrive in the wild. Cheetahs rely on speed to catch their preferred prey like Thomsons gazelles, impalas, young to sub adult warthogs, young wildebeests and sometimes Grants gazelles. They therefore have to be fit, strong and able to outrun all their prey in order to have a meal. When a Cheetah therefore gets a leg injury that should send alarm bells ringing to wildlife managers and conservationists that urgent action need to be taken to treat and make sure that the animal is fit enough to survive in the wild. When the Mara vet unit got a call about a limping female cheetah seen with two cubs aged about two months, we got very concerned and started to aggressively search for her in the Talek area of the Masai Mara Nat reserve where she had been seen. Two days later, the Olare Orok Conservancy manager a Mr. Rob and his wife Sarah reported to the Vet unit seeing a Cheetah limping on the right hind leg. When we went searching, we found the Cheetah with only one cub tucked under thick acacia scrubs on the banks of a stream flowing through the conservancy. She was very calm in our presence and the cub tried to prompt the mummy to get away from our approach but she remained very calm even after we prompted her to walk a little bit so we could see the extent of her injury. When she did, it was evident that she could not put any weight on the injured right hind leg.

The extent of the limp necessitated anesthetization to further examine the injury and determine the best treatment regime to administer to the Cheetah. We quickly divided ourselves into two groups, the darting and treatment group and the second group was to keep an eye on the cub to make sure we did not loose it in the thickets because it would be easy prey for the other carnivores if separated from its mother. After darting, the examination revealed a cut on the main toe and this is what made it difficult for her to walk. We suspected that she was trying to defend the cubs when she got injured and probably lost one of the cubs leaving her with only one. This is what prompted her to move away from the Talek area that has a high population of Hyenas into the safety of Olare Orok Conservancy that teems with good numbers of herbivores.

When the Mother was undergoing treatment the cub was in hiding in the nearby bushes but nobody could tell where exactly it was. Just when all the treatments were completed, the biggest surprise came when the mother just rose from anesthesia without the administration of the revival antidote sending the vet crew scampering for cover. But she was not intent on hurting anyone and could possibly tell that we were only out to alleviate the pain on the wounded paw. Surprisingly again, from the small bush she was heading to, the little cub emerged and happily rejoined its mother. The team was all in tears of joy after the successful treatment and reunion of the tiny cub with its mother.

We all wish this cub security and good health to grow to maturity and live a happy wild life on the plains of Masai Mara and to this beautiful and strong mother we wish her the quickest recovery so she can raise many, many more cubs in the Mara. From the Mara vet unit we wish you all a Merry Xmas and a highly prosperous year 2012! Micheni Felix- Mara Vet Unit.