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Born Free USA Global Field Projects

False Leads

Published 11/17/12
By Alison Hood, Born Free Foundation

Following the previous day’s call about two orphaned “cheetah” in Abijata-Shalla Lakes National Park (ASNP), Born Free Ethiopia Project Director Stephen Brend and myself left Addis at lunchtime and arrived at the park office just after 5 p.m. Our plan had been to set off as soon as our meetings in Addis were over, get to the park office, collect the cheetahs and then spend the night in the area with Born Free Ethiopia Board Member Davide Valle, who lives nearby. This would save taking a long drive back in the dark.

So far so good. The Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA) official at the park took us to his office. Through a mixture of Amharic and English we soon made out that the cheetah cubs were not actually there; we had another 90-minute drive to the farmer’s house. With sunset now only an hour away, there was no time to lose. Two park staff jumped in the car with us, and we headed off. We drove into the sunset and continued. Driving through the towns and the villages was hazardous. People, donkeys and carts with no lights, children running around, cows, dogs — all had to be negotiated on pot holed roads. The journey was slow.

Eventually we arrived in the town of Ajee. People milled around the car, curious at the two large travel crates we had in the back. The park reps went to find the local woldea (district) leader, a man called Desta. It was a large town and we had no idea where the cubs were.

“Follow me,” instructed Desta.

We had several false starts, but each one eventually yielding more information about the “house where the little cats were.”

Eventually, off a dusty and rutted side road, we were led up to some houses. All in darkness.

We pulled up outside the gum pole fence and made our way to the small yard where about 20 people were gathered round the light from a small torch. On the end of two ropes, in the spotlight, two tiny kittens played and struggled. As we had thought, they were not cheetahs, but very young servals (cheetahs, sadly, having been eradicated from the area many years previously). We were informed that the farmer had accidentally disturbed the mother and four cubs on his land. The mother had made off with two cubs, leaving these two youngsters alone and now orphaned. The farmer had taken them in, fed them and reported this to the EWCA.

“But we’ve decided we want to keep them,” he now suddenly informed us. “We’ll build a nice cage for them in the yard and they will be fine with us.”

It was now getting late and we wanted to be off.

“It’s illegal to keep wild animals; they need specialist care; we can provide it,” we explained.

The group of men went into a huddle to discuss. Stephen went to the vehicle to collect the crate. We’d definitely only need the small one.

We waited in the darkness as the discussion continued.

Then finally we were given the green light and the kittens were quickly loaded in the crates, the ropes still tied around their necks.

We started the drive back, heading for ASNP, to drop the warden off and then onto Davide’s.

As we made our way through the pitch blackness, the countless lorries that make these roads so dangerous were now parked up for the night. The drive was going well, so we decided to make our way back to Addis.

We’d not had time to look at the kittens properly in Ajee, it had been a case of getting them loaded and getting on the road. Fortunately, though, on the journey they just played and then slept, played and slept. Stephen drove, I had the crate on my lap.

We finally got back to Addis at 1 a.m. The 12-hour round trip, after several wrong leads, had eventually brought two more orphaned animals into the care of Born Free, our partners at EWCA and the team at Ensessakotteh.

Back at the office in Addis, we opened the crate and let the two kittens out. Amazingly, they were still feisty and playful. (We certainly weren’t!) We’d been told they were eating meat, but much of the information that had come our way was not reliable. So we put down some mince and water and a small bowl of milk. They were ravenous. We did not give them too much.

The ropes were removed from around their necks.

Up early the next morning, we checked on Ajee and Shalla, and once again there were two feisty little servals. They gobbled their food.

Stephen updated out vet, Dr. Rea Tshopp, on progress and reviewed the immediate care plans.

Too young to take to Ensassakoteh at the moment, they’ll stay in the office compound. Things can change rapidly with such young animals. Here, Stephen can keep a close eye on them over the next, few, crucial days.

Read updates about our Ethiopian Wildlife Center project.

See the Ethiopian Wildlife Center project's photo gallery.

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