Arriving at the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia was quite the change from my normal routine. Since I had worked at an animal shelter and had two dogs and a foster cat under my care before I left, I was used to regularly having animals to take care of and spend time with. On arriving, I felt a lack of animal connection, despite seeing an assortment of wildlife, resident cheetahs, livestock guarding dogs, goats and sheep. My usual stress-reducing routine consists of going on a hike with my dogs, or staying at home with them when I’m feeling down, but I suddenly found myself without that option. I brought books and a journal to help keep me occupied when I had down time, but nothing seemed to help me feel that sense of normalcy. The first few days, before I started to feel like a part of the CCF family, I had a hard time and felt a bit out of my comfort zone in many aspects.
One of my first tasks was ‘goat checks’. Two interns would be assigned to go check the herd of goats and sheep before they went out for the day and again, once they came back to the kraal, to look for potential injuries. The herd here serves as a model livestock farm, teaching local farmers how to be cost-effective while still protecting and utilizing their livestock. It’s important to educate farmers in ways to protect their herds from predators in an alternative way to using lethal methods.
At first, I was just learning how to properly check all the goats and sheep for any signs of sickness or discomfort. I began to notice that some of the goats and two of the sheep enjoyed human company. The young goats especially, would sometimes run to greet us as we entered their pen. They knew we weren’t there to feed them, but approached us regardless. Over time, I spent more time with them, stopping to squat down and pet them during or after goat checks, just for fun.
I’ve had little experience with goats at home and never have found them to be anything too special before now. Regardless, it was nice to have animals to spend time with, reminding me of home. This extended to the livestock guarding dogs here at CCF, once I was assigned to tasks working with them, such as feeding and walking. CCF breeds Anatolian Shepherds as working dogs for local farmers, as an effective form of livestock protection from predators. I quickly got to know the 18 adult dogs individually, along with their unique personalities, and got to spend time with all of them. I’m now much more comfortable being here at CCF, and have made friends with interns, staff, dogs and goats. I am not scheduled for goat checks as often since I am able to do all of the tasks, though I still enjoy the chance to visit them every so often.
The last thing I expected was to come to the Cheetah Conservation Fund and to need to hang out with the goats to help me get through initial shock and homesickness, but it somehow did just the trick. Needless to say, I’m now more appreciative of the all the animals and may have gotten a little too attached to a couple of them. This helped me realize that even when traveling to unfamiliar places, I can still find comfort in familiar things, especially through my love for animals.