When a death occurs in your life, there is nothing that prepares you for it. When it is a senseless death the anger and outrage that you experience is incomprehensible. We at the Trust are extremely sad to report the death of Atlantic. Our four year old male African wild cat was found dead on the 30 June 2008, at the Bushman Rock Release site. There is just so much killing in this country right now and to know that one of your own animals who had been breed and raised in your care, had his chance of freedom but it was cut short by his unnecessary death – makes your heart very heavy indeed.
Atlantic was born on 31 December 2004, to Starsky and Hooch. He was from a litter of three males. His two siblings were named Africa and Kenya. Hooch is an amazing mother and this litter, which was her third, was not any different. She approached yet another motherhood experience with complete dedication. Where I am very fortunate is that Hooch and I have developed a bond which allows me to get involved with the feeding and care of her kittens. A litter of three kittens for an African wild cat is large and I did not want Hooch to dry up or reject her kittens due to lack of milk. So from the point of her giving birth, I interact with her, by feeding her twice a day, close to the kittens. This way Hooch knows that I am not a threat to her kittens and for her kittens to become familiar with my voice and smell.
On 11th October 2007, Atlantic was anaesthetized so that we could measured and have blood taken for sampling. He was then relocated to Bushman Rock Estates, where his final release into the wild would take place.
Although he settled in well at Bushman Rock, Atlantic remained a shy and reserved cat. So it was decided to send Paris to Bushman Rock as well to give him some companionship and form a breeding pair at the release site. Paris was moved to Bushman Rock Estates mid December 2007 and the pair settled down together.
On 22nd February 2008, Atlantic was collared. He was left in the enclosure for a further two days to make sure he was fully recovered from the effects of the drugs. On Monday 25th February 2008 the gate was opened. Atlantic, in his quiet and enigmatic way decided to stay a few days longer at “Hotel” Bushman Rock before venturing out. But when he finally left the enclosure, everything went very smoothly and the post release tracking was also yielding positive results. Both cats had joined up and were seen together on more than one occasion.
On the morning of Monday 30th June 2008 we received some shocking news. Whilst on patrol that day one of the game scouts at the Bushman Rock Estates Release site had found Atlantic dead on a pathway in the bush. He had been tracked that morning and the signal was traced back to the enclosure area which was considered normal.
There were several unusual circumstances surrounding his death:
1.) He was lying on a pathway which is highly suspicious – if a wild animal is sick for any reason it would seek refuge, even if it were dying.
2.) He had been tracked at the enclosure that morning, and his position of death in relation to where he was is a distance of approx 1 – 2 km away. Again, a sick animal would not travel that far.
3.) We suspected a snake bite, but several factors could rule this out. Firstly, at this time of year most snakes are still hibernating (as we are in winter), and even if they were out they would be sluggish due to the cold weather. There were also no marks on his body to indicate a bite or struggle of any kind.
This left us to draw a very nauseating conclusion: was he poisoned?
Atlantic’s body was brought to the Wildlife Veterinary Unit the following day (1st July 2008) and Dr. Chris Foggin performed a post mortem, whilst Ellen observed. Atlantic was physically in good condition for a four year old cat who had been released, apart from a mild tapeworm infestation (entirely normal in a wild felid under these circumstances). Through his previous experience, the only conclusion that Dr. Foggin could draw was that this was a case of poisoning. Unfortunately in Zimbabwe we do not have the available equipment or technology to determine exactly what chemical was used.
Africa is most certainly not for the meek and mild, or fair at heart. Poaching and poisoning are happening on a daily basis here in Zimbabwe and it is an issue which we have to over come. How? Is the challenge. We can only hope that through further education and awareness we can stop the poisoning. The poaching is pure and simply economics, need I say more.