Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cheetah Refuge: Djibouti

Scott Johnson is our guide and He was amazing and knowledgeable

Dry and dusty on the drive
DECAN Refuge (Discovery and Aid Nature) was founded in 2002 and opened in 2003 by a local French veterinarian, Dr. Bertrand LaFrance.  It is part of a larger organization known as Association DECAN, which was founded in May 2001 with a goal to protect wildlife and develop the knowledge of nature throughout Djibouti.  Its first mission was to protect sea turtles by convincing restaurants to stop serving turtle soup.    The organization works closely with local schools and the French military on environmental and ecological issues through education of biodiversity.

The poverty Kills you
More affectionately known as the Cheetah Refuge because it was first envisioned due to the rescuing of cheetahs which he was keeping in his backyard and gardens.  Once they were big enough, they began climbing/jumping over the walls into the neighboring yards, whose owners started to complain.
Dr. LaFrance approached the Djiboutian government and requested land to build a Refuge for the animals’ protection.  A small plot of unwanted land (35 acres in 2003, expanded to 70 acres in 2006, but now will more than 200 areas) was loaned (not permanently) to Association DECAN, but he must submit a report every 2 years in order to prove the worth of allowing the Djiboutian government to continue to let the Refuge use the land.  Support for the Refuge is completely by donations; no assistance from the government is provided.  It is 100% non-profit.

Steppe Eagle – a bird of prey from Romania east through the south Russian and Central Asian steppes to Mongolia.  The European and Central Asian eagles winter in Africa.  National animal of Egypt.

ANIMALS I couldn't get photos of

Wild African Ass – a wild member of the horse family; believed to be the ancestor of the domestic donkey.  Live in desert areas of East Africa, but only about 500 remain in the wild today.  Horizontal black stripes on its legs resubliming those of a zebra.    Have a very tough digestive system which can break down desert vegetation and extract moisture and have been known to drink salty and even blackish water.  They have large ears with excellent hearing and to help in cooling.   Have a tendency to investigate potentially dangerous situations first before fleeing.

Abyssinian (Ethiopian horse) – Short in stature with an interesting coat which can develop a mustache around their nose.   It has strength and an ability to live and work in mountainous areas.

Baboon – Very smart and run in “gangs” 20 – 30 baboons.  Have been known to break into two groups, with half of the gang throwing rocks at the front of a home, getting the occupants to come outside to see what is going on, while the other half of the gang goes into the back of the home to look for and steal food.

Barbary Falcon – Similar to the Peregrine Falcon, but smaller, prefers semi-desert and open hills.  “Leftie”, was confiscated from its owner who had amputated part of one of his wings to keep him from being able to fly away.

The bus had to stop during the drive because a giant herd of goats came running out. If you hit a goat you not only pay for it but also for its children and grand children... so avoid the goats!.

We are about to enter the refuge
Prosipis – A thorny shrub or small tree, not native to Africa (it is the dark, bright healthy looking green plants).  It is a South American plant that was introduced to the Horn of Africa in the 1970s, for shade more than likely.  It is invasive, acting much like the dandelion of the tree world.  It competes with the local plant life for both water and sunlight, often killing the local foliage, the Acacia.  Problem with this is the native wildlife eats and survives on the Acacia and does not eat the Prosipis.   Dr. LaFrance started an education movement throughout Djibouti on removing the invasive Prosipis, a member of the mesquite family, and teaching Djiboutians how to make charcoal and other uses from the wood.

Oryx (East African) – also known as the Beisa, it is one of the large antelope species and can live up to 20 years.  Can survive for long periods of time without water and are able to store water by raising their body temperature to 116 F (so as to avoid perspiration).  Newborns can run with the herd immediately after birth.   Both male and females have horns and they are lethal. 

This place is guarded 24hours a day. not just for the animals.. They have dirt.

Thats right, the natives try to steal the dirt. My guess is they will use it to grow plants or food.
There are guards on duty at all times, Scott told us do not wonder off.

Meet Awale: we became very close- he pee'd on me.
Cheetah – The pride of the Refuge and the reason it was first envisioned, we have 6 cheetahs, all rescued between 2000 – 2002.  Tessai was the first to be rescued, chained up in a restaurant just to give the patrons something to look at.  The owners were convinced that she was sick and should be taken to Dr. Lafrance who had police waiting to confiscate her.  This started his mission to stop the illegal ownership and smuggling of animals in and through Djibouti.  The others include Awale, Ginko & Kabi (called “the brothers”, they are not related, but formed a coalition and have not been separated since), Tigrou and the only other female, Harimad.   Built for speed, with enlarged organs and vascular system to allow for extra oxygen, semi-retractable claws to act like running shoes, long legs and a flexible spine to allow for long strides, smaller head for reduced wind resistance and black “tear-drops” below the eyes to the sun out of their eyes.  They are able to reach speeds of 70 – 75 mph, often going from 0 – nearly 70 mph in 3 seconds.  They can cover 7 – 8 meters per stride at top speed and will take 4 strides per second.  The downside to being the fastest animal on the planet is the short time they can maintain it all that speed and often has to rest to lower its body temperature and heart rate before it can even eat.  The gazelle is its favorite prey, but other animals such as the scrub hares and oryx.  Cheetah females will usually not go into heat while in captivity.  Cheetahs are identified by front facial, side head and tail tip and are the only big cats that can purr while it inhales.

Scott is so friendly with these cheetahs they treat him like a house cat to an owner. When we walked out they came right to him.
Awale was the nicest of the cats- he actually would walk up and roll over like he wanted to have his belly rubbed.. Don't do it unless you have super great trainers/guys who know better with you like we did.

Awale would walk along with us and at one point turned around and sprayed me... He pee'd allover my leg. I was laughing my but off. I guess he liked me.
No wonder animals eat the hell out of gazelles- They walk right over to you.. And they look delicious.

Ostrich's are A-holes... And don't forget it!
They followed us around and they kick and bite- thank god Scott had a trick, he held long sticks in the air and they thought it was a taller Ostrich.
What are you looking at?

Ostrich – largest living species of bird, it is flightless and lays the largest eggs.  They are the fastest land birds and the fastest two legged animal, with a maximum speed of about 45 mph.  Born almost a foot tall, the grown a average of 1 foot per month for the first 6 months.  Juvenile and females are grayish-brown and white in color, while adult males are black and white.  Can only kick forward, but can kill with its powerful legs and dinosaur like feet.  Only two toes (most birds have 4) and largest eyeballs of any land vertebrate (nearly 2 inches), they can grow as tall as 9 feet and weigh nearly 350 lbs.  They also have 3 stomachs and can have a much as 1 kg of pebbles in their stomach which they have swallowed to help grind food in their gizzard.

Pelzeln Gazelle – most common in Djibouti (The land of the gazelle).  Both sexes have horns.   Although illegal to do so, it is believed as many as 200 gazelles are kept as pets in Djibouti City.  For every 1 gazelle alive in captivity, another 3 die from being taken away from its mother.  So for the approx. 200 in the city, another 600 died.

The zebras kept following us- they are awesome
Grevy Zebra – also known as the Imperial Zebra is the largest of zebra.  Has large ears and its stripes are narrower and come in patterns unique to each individual.  In many respects, it is more akin to the asses.  They may spend 60 – 80 % of their days eating.  Gestation of 350 – 400 days, only a single foal is born.  Newborn zebra will follow anything that moves thus new mothers are highly aggressive for a few hours after they give birth.   Zebras are actually black, with white stripes.   Stripes are a camouflage mechanize against its natural predator, the color blind lion.

Can hide in tall grass or appear as one large animal in a close grouped heard.  Have excellent hearing, smell, taste and eyesight and believed to see in color.

120degrees- high humidity

Tortoise – with two of the four largest tortoises in the world, the refuge has more than 30 in all.  The Leopard tortoise (100 years – 120 pounds) and the African Spurred tortoise (80 years – 150 pounds)
Watched the turtles get it on! Loud turtle sex!

Caracal African wild cat or a Lynx
Caracals hunt by approaching about 20 ft away before suddenly sprinting and leaping. They kill smaller prey with a bite to the neck, and larger animals by biting the throat. Caracals sometimes cover their larger prey if they cannot consume the whole carcass in a single meal, and return to it later. Some have even been observed to hide carcasses in trees.

It is best known for its spectacular skill at hunting birds, able to snatch a bird in flight, sometimes more than one at a time.

Zack Attack!

If no cover is available they will flatten themselves against the ground and remain motionless, allowing its coat colour to act as camouflage. Then spring into action.

Caracal – a fiercely territorial small to medium-sized cat.  Name comes from a Turkish wording meaning “black ear”.  Although once thought to be related to the lynx due to the tuffs of hair on the tips of their ears, they are actually more closely related to the African golden cat and the serval.  Its ears are controlled by 20 different muscles.  An ambush predator, it is best known for its incredible skill at hunting birds, able to jump and snatch a bird in flight, and sometimes more than one at a time.

The Big Cats
Lion – One of the four big cats, it is the second largest living cat after the tiger.  The two in the Refuge were gifts from Somaliland to the Djiboutian President.  Currently in a temporary enclosure, their new enclosure will be 100 meters by 200 meters behind where they are currently are.  Fed every day except for Friday, they have a healthy appetite.   Males are capable of growing to 550 lbs and the females to 400 lbs.    Adult males will also grow a mane, but it will fall off if the male is “fixed”.  Hunting is done by the females, while protection of the pride is provided by the male(s).
Getting stared down.

The cage they came in!

Acacia – A native plant/tree of Africa, it is the primary natural food source for many of the local grazing animals.   They also have thorns, or spines, but these do not stop the animals from grazing on its green leaves.  The Refuge has 3 bee hives which help pollinate the Acacia, but also causes a special honey to be created which does not crystallize and is considered a delicacy.  The first-known vegetarian spider was first documented and filmed feeding from the tips of the Acacia plant.  Acacia is listed as an ingredient in Sun Drops, Fresca, RC Cola, Barq’s Root Beer, Full Throttle Unleaded Energy Drink, Strawberry-Lemonade Powerade, Altoids Mints, Wrigley’s Eclipse Chewing Gum and M&Ms Pretzels.  For obvious reasons, it is uses for home security as well as making incense.  It is also believed to be the “Burning Bush” which Moses encounters in the desert and was the material God instructed Moses to create the Tabernacle with.   The most famous acacia was the Arbre du Te’ne’re’ in Niger which was the most isolated tree in the world, approximently 400 km (249 miles) from any other tree.   The tree was knocked down by a truck driver in 1973.

About 3 feet high
Crested Porcupine – a rodent that has quills which came be raised into a crest.  Sturdier quills along the sides and back-half of the body. Loosely attached and partly hollow, the can make a hiss-like sound when vibrated.  Good diggers.  Raise their quills to look bigger when threatened, and will charge an attacker, back-end first, to stab with the shorter quills.  These attacks have been known to have killed lions, leopards, hyenas and even humans.

Striped Hyena – Lars and Suzie.  Master scavengers, capable of digesting things other animals would dare not touch.  They also have bone crushing jaw strength so it can even crush and consume bone.

My Favorite is the hyenas

After the Refuge we went back- Cleaned Up and headed to the Airport.
Next thing I knew we were in Jetty then crossing the Alps in to Paris.
I can't believe we are on our way home.

Paris from above