When David is doing his fieldwork in Namibia, which is typically from December- April, he stays at a center run by the Cheetah Conservation Fund, an organization dedicated to helping save the cheetah in the wild.
At the time of our visit, more than 30 cheetahs were staying at the center. Some are resident cheetahs that were orphaned as cubs, brought in and bottle-fed by staff members, and now live out their days at the center as vital parts of CCF’s outreach program.
Other cheetahs are there for a short time to be treated for an injury such as a rotten tooth or broken leg and will be released back into the wild. These are the cheetahs that very few people are allowed to see or interact with, in order to minimize their habituation to humans.
Most days, David eats breakfast, lunch, and dinner at The Hot Spot— a building in the middle of the center that has an indoor kitchen and outdoor seating. Workers heap up their plates with oatmeal, lasagna, chicken, salad, or spaghetti—whatever is on the menu that day—and sit side-by-side on picnic tables.
The people who work at the center come from all over the world—the United States, Europe, Asia, and of course, Africa. They are in different types of work programs, including full time staff members, working guests, volunteers, and interns. They are veterinarians, biologists, geneticists, gardeners, teachers and students.
While the cheetahs are certainly the most talked-about residents at the center, there is another resident who attracts attention from time to time. Nestled in a tree just a few yards from The Hot Spot is a hornbill family, cozied up in one of Mark’s nest boxes. The female and nestlings have clogged up the hole to the box, leaving just enough space for the male to fit worms through.
The male is a constant presence at The Hot Spot, peering at the workers from his branch, making occasional visits to tables to nip at any dropped scraps. The center is teaming with other birds too—wide-eyed barn owls, red-backed shrikes, kiwi-green bee-eaters, and lilac-breasted rollers.
One evening, David points out a pair of pearl spotted owlets bravely hopping around one of the cheetah pens. It’s enough to make any birder feel at home.
Written by Lindsay Key; Photos by Jelena Djakovic