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Cheetah enrichment in Namibia

The Namibia Wildlife Conservation & Sanctuary project has come up with an ingenious way of keeping their cheetahs occupied - by having volunteers make false prey filled with meat treats!

Image courtesy of Namibia Wildlife Conservation & Sanctuary

The captivity of animals, whether it is because they are unable to be rereleased back into the wild, are part of a breeding programme, or were born in captivity often means that these animals lose their natural ability to hunt or stalk prey. Regardless of whether they will be returning to the wild or not, it is a good thing to try and bring a bit of the wild to them and remind them of their natural instincts. One way of doing this is to simulate hunting experiences for animals in sanctuaries, to re-teach them how to hunt. Projects such as Namibia Wildlife Conservation & Sanctuary work hard to develop this kind of rehabilitation treatment, and works hard to stimulate the cheetah’s natural hunting instinct.

Image courtesy of Namibia Wildlife Conservation & Sanctuary

To make the cheetah’s lives more exciting and more like the life they would have naturally had in the wild, part of volunteering in Namibia involved making “enrichment items”. These have constituted of some spectacular and unusual looking toys, with a very serious purpose. The items are made from boxes and paper mache, decorated with non-toxic paint, and filled with tasty meat treats for the cats to try and find. The items in question are made to look like a variety of animals and prey that the big cats would normally face in the wild and the smell of the treats hidden inside naturally make the cheetahs very curious to investigate. Enrichment activities teach the cheetahs what to look for in prey and at the same time as tapping into their natural instinct to hunt.

Image courtesy of Namibia Wildlife Conservation & Sanctuary

Many real sanctuaries worldwide offer this kind of rehabilitation treatment, and you can avoid donating your time and resources to pseudo-sanctuaries by asking questions about enrichment activities for the animals before you get involved. Enrichment activities, such as the false prey hunting, mean that what would have once been a short and inactive feeding session now becomes an all-day foraging session. Most importantly it gives animals the chance to hone techniques and skills that they would need to survive in the wild, and ultimately act like the animals they are.

Image courtesy of Namibia Wildlife Conservation & Sanctuary

Animal stimulation in sanctuaries, such as the cheetah enrichment that takes place in Namibia, goes a long way in improving the lives of animals living in sanctuaries. By encouraging animals to practice their natural instinct to hunt and forage, sanctuaries are able to greatly increase the animal’s chances to survive once released into the wild. For those animals living in captivity it gives them the chance not to become too domesticated from being fed each day by feeders. The time spent building these bizarre but brilliant creations also means lots of fun work for volunteers to get involved in as well!

In order to get involved in this creative and rewarding programme of simulating cheetahs’ natural hunting behaviour and skills, find out more about the Namibia Carnivore Conservation Programme or the Namibia Wildlife Conservation & Sanctuary project as a way of being part of real hands on conservation and rehabilitation work.

For more opportunities to volunteer or learn more about wildlife conservation visit the Frontier website.

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