Wednesday, March 7, 2012


This afternoon we took an excursion to the Emdonene, popular because guests get to spend time interacting directly with some of the cats and have a picture taken up close and personal with a cheetah. When discussing the possible excursions for today, this one did not top my list, but Linda wanted to go, so we did. And what an experience it was. Not only did we get to pet the cheetah, we learned a lot about an organization doing great things for the servals, caracals, cheetahs, and African wild cats they breed here. It was fun and well worth the time. Caring for these animals is expensive, so they charge people to visit and have their picture taken with the cheetahs and get in the pen with some of the other cats.
Our Picture
Jim and Marcia
First, we made one of those obligatory tour stops at a cultural shop for ten minutes. Tour companies seem to  have a constitutional duty to connect with these shops to help us support the local economy. At least at this one there was no pressure and we were able to pass on the buying opportunities without feeling guilty. It helped that one lady bought two sets of place mats and another bought a table cloth. If we weren’t already over our weight allowance for the end of our trip we might have looked more seriously at the items they had for sale. Quality here at Ilala Weavers was higher than at a lot of these places.
A Carical Eating the Chicken He Didn't Jump For
Carical Getting a Drink
We arrived a bit late and had to join a group in progress. Bernie, the director, had just begun talking about the caracals. This center takes in animals that are not able to survive in the wild. Some were pets, some were injured in the wild or by hunters. One of the caracals came because the chicken farmer who caught her killing his chickens decided Emdoneni was a better fate. Caracals (look like our bobcats) are especially dangerous to farmers because they will wantonly kill an entire flock and only eat one. The cats here have been trained to jump for their food. At least that is what we were told. We did not see much jumping. Perhaps they have figured out that the food comes whether they jump or not. 
Caracal Jumping For the Chicken
In addition to caring for these animals, they breed them and train the babies to live in the wild so they can be placed in game reserves to improve the species chances of survival in the wild. The cats are weaned as soon as possible and then begin their training. The first step is a dead chicken instead of their regular food. The naturalist said it may take as much as three days before the cats get hungry enough to eat this different food. Then they throw in a live chicken that has been hurt enough to be easy to catch. This may take longer, but the animal finally gets the idea. Finally, in a larger pen, the animal gets a healthy chicken. It may take 5 or 6 days, but the animal finally gets hungry enough and smart enough to catch the chicken. Over the next few weeks, the animal perfects its skill and is soon ready to be released into the wild. For our entertainment and picture opportunities, she had them jump as she threw chicken parts over the fence. Unfortunately for us, only one jumped once. Always smiling our guide moved us on to the cheetahs.
Cheetah Posing For Us
Bernie Showing Her Photography Skills
Bernie spent quite a bit of time talking about the cheetahs and going over the rules for us as we entered the pen to get an up close and personal interaction and picture with the cats. She explained how they are able to run so fast, but only for very short distances. They have a backwards claw that is perfect for hamstringing the prey if they are not able to catch them directly. One of her big concerns is legal hunting in Namibia. She said that if they don’t stop that hunt, cheetahs will be extinct in less than 40 years. Meanwhile they will do what they can.
Bernie Discussing the Cheetahs
The two cats we would interact with were a bit feisty, but gentle and purred a lot during their ordeal with us. Once inside the pen we each had a chance to sit with the cheetah while she took our picture with our own cameras. She said she is a good photographer and she is. Taking 30 pictures kept her busily moving around the marginally uncooperative animals. As one side gets hot, they turn over to cool off. So Bernie would scoot around to the other side of the animal. Because they were doing this more than normal, she explained that the cats were playing with her.  
Serval Eying the Photographers
Next were the servals. These beautiful cats are on the endangered species list because their pelts make beautiful coats. However, it takes 19 animals to make one coat. While their pelts are also used in official Zulu ceremonies, that is too small a take to matter. They are beautiful animals, and it is easy to see why people would want the pelts, but it is also easy to see why we need to change some or our attitudes around the world if our grandchildren are going to have these opportunities. After Bernie talked about the servals we were able to get in the pen with them for some close-up pictures. No petting however, as these cats are a bit too skittish for that. 
African Wild Cat
The final cat we saw was the African wild cat. While they look exactly like our house cats these are easily identifiable by several markings. The tails always end in black. They have a rust color on the back of their ears. They also have an orange front collar and full black circles around their front legs. These cats are threatened by interbreeding. These are the ancestors of our domestic cats. So many of our domestic cats have escaped or been released that some have entered into the wild here. As they interbreed with these wild cats, the wild cats will lose their unique identity – another sad story to share with our grandchildren.

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