Wildlife haven AfriCat this month performed an annual health check-up for animals who have found sanctuary there. This year 27 cheetahs and four wild dogs were treated during the three-day health check. Four of the cheetahs and the wild dogs were returned to the 16 000-hectare wilderness area in the Okonjima Reserve where their progress in adapting to life in the bush is regularly monitored.
The remaining cheetahs were all given a clean bill of health; some will continue to be ambassadors for AfriCat at the Care Centre and a select few will be prepared for rehabilitation and the next possible release on Okonjima Reserve.
The AfriCat health check is an annual opportunity for the AfriCat team, supporting veterinarian Dr Mark Jago and a host of volunteers, tour guides, family members and supporters to make sure the animals remain in good health.
For a number of years, specialist veterinarians have been invited to share their expertise or to contribute to valuable research during the health checks.
Dr Henk Bertschinger, a wildlife reproduction specialist based in South Africa, returned to AfriCat for the 14th time.
In addition, Dr Karl-Heinz Moeller assisted his fellow veterinarians.
In preparation for these examinations, individual animals in the Care Centre are identified according to routine and specific needs which may have arisen such as contraception, eye infections or abnormalities, worn or broken teeth, serious injuries and any other obvious symptoms indicating poor health, observed during the daily rounds.
Bertschinger took the opportunity to monitor reproductive efficiency in males, whose testicular size and sperm count were measured. He also re-administered contraceptives in both female and male cheetahs.
The use of contraception, administered subcutaneously (under the skin) every 12 to18 months, instead of sterilisation of these valuable carnivores, makes it possible to reverse the effects should individuals be rehabilitated and released into the wild for breeding.
Dr Jago and Dr Moeller kept everything running smoothly during these health checks, adeptly anaesthetising nervous individuals, thoroughly examining each carnivore and administering a drip to prevent dehydration.
Once the selected cheetah has been darted, monitoring begins: the anaesthetised animal’s temperature and respiration must be carefully observed, eye ointment administered and an ‘airline eye-pad’ tied to its face to protect the open eyes. Another group is in charge of carrying the sleeping cat to the examination table.
Another group of supporters powder and comb the sleeping animal whilst Drs Jago, Bertschinger and Moeller carry out the necessary procedures.
Following vaccinations blood sampling and finally weighing, it is time to place the sleeping cat into its transport box, where it is monitored until completely recovered.
The lions of the AfriCat North Care Centre will undergo a similar health check this month.