Last month our research team took down the 132 motion-activated cameras that they had placed out across the Ghanzi commercial ranches as part of a long-term wildlife monitoring exercise. The cameras, which are placed out for three consecutive months every year, monitor changes in wildlife numbers and distribution, and give us a good indication as to whether cheetah populations in the area are increasing, decreasing or stable and also gives us information about other carnivore presences and their prey. For this study alone, the research team retrieved a staggering 1.5 million photos to analyse for the study, to add to the few hundred thousand photos that they already accumulated this year through monitoring of farms and other studies on cheetah behaviour and ecology. Thankfully, help has arrived in the form of newly-developed AI technology and through a new development in photo analysis software, we have sent the photos to the Wageningen University in the Netherlands to trial their automated photo-analysis software. If successful, this approach could save our research team many long and arduous months of manual analysis and can free them up to conduct more on the ground work. Our partnership with the Wageningen University was born out of the acceptance of our Research Coordinator, Michelle Kral, as a PhD candidate. Michelle is working with the university while heading up CCB’s research team, taking a deep dive into conflict with cheetahs in the Kalahari and looking at how habitat and ecology impacts cheetah behaviour and the farmers they live alongside. We are incredibly thankful to the team at Wageningen University for their support and help with our camera trap photo analysis and we wish Michelle all the best of luck in her PhD work.
It is hard times like this when it is good to reflect on those special moments that have meant a lot to us. Looking back at these happy memories reminds us of the incredible job we have protecting cheetahs and they help us to get through tough times like these. Here we share with you the happiest moments from our Research Officer, Chris Mbisana and our Education Officer, Goabaone Britz Malepe.
“One morning in 2016, I was with my colleague, Emma, on our way to a farm to check camera traps that we had placed at a cheetah marking tree. As we walked towards the cheetah marking tree, I saw something lying under a tree not far us. I was about to ask Emma if she could see it, when the animal lifted its head up and I realised it was a cheetah. Not only one, but two of them, lying there in the shade of the tree. When they saw us, they quickly fled the scene, as only cheetahs can do best. The greatest thing was that the two cheetahs were Clyde and Leigh — a coalition of two males which we saw regularly on our camera traps and whom we had collared two years prior. It was at that moment that I started believing that these animals really existed in these farms, surrounded by so much livestock and so many people.
My happiest moment at CCB was when I was giving out prizes to students for an essay writing competition CCB had organized for primary school students in the Ghanzi district. It was in November 2018 — a week before the schools closed. I was already happy with my previous encounters with the other winners that I had handed prizes to in the days before. It had already left a good impression with me and I was feeling happy and was looking forward to meeting that last winner. Her name was Theo Gaditlhatlhelwe — a Grade 6 student from Kalkfontein Primary School. She was called to the staff room to come and get her prize, and from the moment she entered, I could see that she was very sharp and had an air of authority about her. When chatting with her about the prizes she had won, I found her to be very articulate, intelligent and confident. Her teachers also had nothing but praise for the young student. Then I learnt from her teachers that her mother was blind and that they were very close. I knew that the e-book reader I had just given her as a prize was exciting for her and this made her incredibly proud of her achievement. From that moment on, I started looking at my work through the eyes of the children that we worked with. Determined that no matter how seemingly insignificant, our work with those children had long-lasting impacts that no one could erase.
Last month we wished an emotional farewell to CCB’s Management Officer, Mingie Masuga. Mingie has been an integral part of the CCB team since she joined us in 2016. After starting as an intern in the Management team, she quickly evolved to become our first Management Officer due to her excellent organizational skills. She worked hard to secure grants which enabled us to expand into more community development work. She efficiently managed our monthly planning goals and targets with the departments and she was instrumental in assisting with the set up and activities of our newest “Communities for Conservation” department. We have spent a very productive four years together! Mingie will be moving into a new role in the Botswana government and we are very pleased to see her excelling in her career. She will be at the forefront of assisting communities with COVID-19 challenges and we couldn’t be prouder of the work that she will be doing to keep people safe. Tsamaya sentle Mingie, we will miss you and hope to see you back one day!
Do you remember your favourite picture book from your childhood? Books have the ability of unlocking imagination, inspiring kids and helping them to fall in love with characters and animals. This year CCB published its first children’s picture book, the inspiring tale of “Xabe: The Cheetah Hero!” After an online art competition launched during lockdown, we took drawings from kids around Botswana to inspire the illustrations in the book. As part of our celebrations for International Cheetah Day on December 4th we visited the schools of the winning students and delivered prize packs, including complementary copies of the book for the winners and their respective schools. Thanks to the generous support from our network during our Giving Tuesday fundraising drive, we managed to raise the $10,000 we needed to print enough books to give copies to every primary school in the country! Botswana’s Ministry of Basic Education is working alongside us to provide the books to schools in their “library packs” to be delivered at the start of the new school year in 2021. We hope that the book will inspire kids all around Botswana to fall in love with cheetahs and to do their best to protect our nation’s precious wildlife.