Action for Cheetahs with Mary Wykstra

In this bonus episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla speaks with Mary Wykstra from Carnivores, Livelihoods and Landscapes, about the work they are doing with Actions for Cheetahs in Kenya. 

Transcription (AI-Generated)

Kayla Fratt (KF) 0:01
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Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:07
Hello, and welcome to the canine conservationist podcast where we’re positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs join us every week to discuss ecology, odor dynamics, animal behavior and everything in between. I’m your host, Kayla Fratt. And I run canine conservationists where I trained dogs to detect data for agencies Reacher’s researchers and NGOs. Today, I’m joined by Mary y extra of action potatoes in Kenya, and carnivores livelihoods and landscapes. To talk about the work that we are doing here in Kenya, we are recording outdoors. So if you hear some traffic or lovely Kenyan birds, you’re not hearing things. So welcome to the podcast, Mary.

Mary Wykstra 1:44
Thank you very much. I’m so glad that you’re able to be here with us in Kenya.

Kayla Fratt 1:48
Yeah, me too. It’s lovely to get to sit outside and a T shirt and bare feet after a long winter. So let’s start out kind of give us the 30,000 foot view of like, what carnivores livelihoods and landscapes is how action for cheetahs fits within that. And then how the Scott dog program fits within that and you can give us as much or as little of the kind of program history as you want.

Mary Wykstra 2:11
Okay, thank you. So kind of what his livelihoods and landscapes is our registered organization. So basically, that’s our legal entity. It allows us to have employees and put all the employees under the regulations for pay scales and have all the legal entities of an organization. So we’re registered here in Kenya as a not for profit limited by guarantee company, and were registered in the US as a 501. C three, underneath carnivores livelihoods and landscapes. It was set up to be able to host programs in Kenya, wanting to get set up in research, but not wanting to register their own organizations. And we started with my own organization, which is action for cheetahs in Kenya. And AC K has a mission to do conservation of cheetahs involving communities research and outreach programs. So it made sense to go ahead and put our program underneath an organization that could be a legal entity that could do more than just cheetahs. So, for the sake of the guarding dogs program, and to not make it go too long, and explaining organizational infrastructure, AC K is the program under which we we started the detection dog program.

Kayla Fratt 3:26
Gotcha. And how long has AC K been around? Did you found it? Or did you take it over from someone.

Mary Wykstra 3:33
So I am the founder of the program here in Kenya. And Laurie marker, who is the founder of cheetah Conservation Fund is a co founder with me here. I was actually based in Namibia, in the early 2000s. And Dr. Marker asked me what I wanted to do with my life. And I said I would really love to start cheetah research in Kenya, because I don’t see anybody else doing a specific cheetah project and I love Kenya. So she began to give me some of the context that she had I made contacts and found out that the Kenya Wildlife Service and several other conservation landowners really wanted to get a better understanding of cheetahs felt that those numbers were declining that populations were being fragmented and asked if CCF could do anything. So I was hosted by CCF to start the first three years of my work in Kenya, and fell in love completely with being here. So we continued to work very closely together as we developed a program that we decided was best to basically form its own organization because the legal entities needed to be done here in Kenya and everything like that. Also, for fundraising purposes, if you’re not under exactly the same organization, it’s a little easier to seek similar funding without being competitive. So that’s when we branched off from being under the umbrella of cheetah Conservation Fund and formed carnivores livelihoods and landscapes. So the action for today is in Kenya probably Like to be totally focused on cheetahs. Not all programs under carnivores livelihoods and landscapes need to be that.

Kayla Fratt 5:06
Gotcha. Yeah, that makes sense. And you do, aside from the scat dogs, which obviously we’ll talk about a lot. And that’s going to be everyone’s main interest. But I figured we get all the background done first. You’re also doing a ton of work right now trying to vaccinate and sterilize some of these domestic animals as well. So do you want to talk about that work and how that relates to cheetahs and why that’s so important.

Mary Wykstra 5:25
So, at one point, several years ago, I was out doing some community interviews and there was a very playful puppy that that I started to pet and play with a little bit and suddenly the dog turned on me and bit me. It was like about a seven or eight month old dog. And so I’m not thinking a lot of it. It did draw blood. I have my rabies vaccine. So I didn’t think too much of it. But then two days later, one of my field officers said, Oh, that dog that bit you died. So suddenly, I was like, oh, man, maybe that dog did have rabies. And so I said, Well, do you know if the dog was vaccinated, and he went, what? So I started to do a little bit more, you know, searching around in those communities and found out that there really wasn’t a vaccination program going on, started to look at what programs are going on within Kenya and found out that the Government of Kenya had a mandate by 2030. To have all dogs in Kenya get vaccinated because about 2000 people per year in Kenya die from rabies. Wow. Yeah. So, alongside of the government, we then initiated a rabies vaccination program up there. Shortly thereafter, we found out that also there were a lot of domestic dogs dying from what people were calling rabies, but was actually distemper. And then also some wild dog populations in the Laikipia in Samburu area got infected with rate with distemper as well. So we added distemper after a couple of years to the vaccination campaign. And then of course, I started to find out a little bit more that when puppies are born out there, because they don’t want more puppies, they kill most of the female puppies, so that they’re not giving birth to more and more, but they don’t do sterilizations. So I partnered with another organization called TNR Trust, which is trap neuter release. And we implemented another program two years ago with spay and neuter which the community is happily embracing that they can get their dogs sterilized, and they become protectors of livestock against predator invasions in their homestead. So our first research showed that dogs were living to be only about three or four years out there, wow, because of diseases because of snake bites because of dog fights. But if we could get their dogs to live longer, have a bit better population control, and disease control, then those dogs can protect their livestock and their livelihoods for a lot longer. So we use our detection dogs to also show the community about proper dog handling, care and feeding. So it becomes an education tool in everything that we do related to each other.

Kayla Fratt 8:10
Okay, yeah. And that’s helpful. And then. So it sounds like the distemper can get out into some of these wild populations as well. So part of this is also kind of reducing overall disease load or Gosh, what did we talk about early in COVID? You know, flattening the curve.

Mary Wykstra 8:26
Immunity? Exactly. Yeah, it’s basically kind of the same thing. With rabies. It’s very well proven that dogs are a main vector in both human induced rabies and in moving into wildlife as well. Nobody has yet totally confirmed that that is what can control the distemper in the population of wild dogs and wild cats, cheetahs, lions, even hyenas can get distemper as well. So a lot of times, if a wild animal like that is sick, you don’t necessarily see it, it goes off into the bush and hides, you just start to see a lowering of population. And that’s what we’ve been seeing as we’ve seen these distemper outbreaks happening in the domestic dogs, we’re seeing a decline in pretty much all the predators happening at the same time. And we have seen some wild dog populations up there with the distemper as well in like kipia they have the wild dogs radio collared and that’s how they know really how many packs had been impacted by distemper and doing the testing. But you know, a lot of times a wild animal just goes and lays under a bush and just dies because nobody sees it sick. You don’t know for sure what it died from, sometimes inside the parks, but but inside the parks are not as highly infected by domestic dog related things. So 78% of cheetahs live outside of national parks and reserve and therefore, more than 78% of our work needs to be outside of parks and reserves.

Kayla Fratt 9:58
Yeah, yeah, that makes a lot have a sense. So aside from potentially, these distemper and rabies, things, you’ve talked a little bit about fragmentation and connectivity and overall habitat loss. What else is our our cheetahs up against? And how are how are they doing?

Mary Wykstra 10:14
Yeah. So retaliation for livestock loss has always been a big thing. But even more so is the land fragmentation, like you just mentioned in in development of highways and roads that are that are not passable putting up huge fences. So a lot of our work looks at how related the cheetahs are to each other across large landscapes. And where there are pocketed populations, how healthy are those pocketed populations, because you’re always going to have source and sink populations, where there’s going to be a few more where the conditions are good, but then you need those dispersal areas for them to move across, and ultimately to find each other to mate. And so in order to do those kinds of studies, we needed to take a big landscape approach. And that’s where we brought the detection dogs into the program.

Kayla Fratt 11:02
Yeah. So tell us about where your detection dog program started. And then take us up through the present, because I know we’ve had, we’ve had a bunch of different working dogs and a bunch of really cool success and worked on with them so far.

Mary Wykstra 11:15
Yeah. Okay. So I learned about the use of detection dogs in 2003, at a workshop about landscape level cheetah conservation. And that was the first time that I had seen what was possible started to think about it, we were already initiating a national cheetah survey, where we were just basically getting out into all the areas where cheetah populations had been in the past and looking at what their status was. So from 2004 to 2007, we did this national cheetah survey without the dogs, constantly thinking about what would make it easier, how can we show how connected they are. And it kept bringing me back to what dogs can do that people can’t. So I had a dog of my own that had a strong play drive. And I thought, well, let me just give it a try. And so without any kind of real special training myself, I consulted with a few organizations based here in Kenya that do security dogs. And that’s how I learned a lot more about how to train a dog. Our problem was we also didn’t have the funding for like a dedicated person. So we were just doing it on our own and, and ginger, who was my dog at the time, picked it up pretty fast. But she had some behavioral things like she really liked to chase rats. And the smell of a rat trail would supersede her smell of a cheetah trail. So, you know, we made a few mistakes with her, but we were really doing it just to see how it would work. The second dog that we got was from a Tanzanian organization and she was already trained on explosives and mind detection. So it wasn’t hard to teach her to move over to cheetah scat. We had a dedicated person at that time who had come on to our program. And we were just about ready to get started when a training session that we were doing in some tall grass. The ball got thrown into the tall grass, the dog fell into a hole and ended up breaking her neck. So we then had the tragedy of not just losing a dog that was ours, but a dog that actually belonged to someone else. And again, you know, looking at, you know, are we doing things the right way and began getting other consultants on board with us. And unfortunately, that dog Mara ended up having to be put to sleep. And we proceeded on with a project using field officers to look for places where there were cheetahs, scat, where cheetahs were cited a very excitedly, they picked up almost 300, Cheetah scouts. And we thought, wow, this is great. We don’t necessarily need dogs to do this. Then we went to the lab. And in the lab, we found that only 27 of those poops that we thought were cheetah turned out. So less than 10% of the scouts that we found turned out to be cheetah using the human eye rather than the dog nose. So we went back again to the drawing board and said, you know if we’re going to do this on a national scale, dogs are pretty much the only way we’re going to be able to do this. So we were able to get some funding through a couple of different organizations get some volunteer consultants to come on board. And in the process of that we started our scat dog saving cheetahs program.

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Kayla Fratt 14:24
Yeah, so about what year are we in now?

Mary Wykstra 14:26
So that was in 2012. Okay, when when we started getting the funding in 2015 is when we got Maddie that’s short from Doha, Doha, which means spots in Swahili because he had a speckled jest. We just thought medulla Doha would be a good name, but that’s a long one. So we’ve shortened it to Maddie. So Maddie, became our first official dog. We sent Maddie to like a boot camp at a facility that also trained security dogs and And while there, there was another dog named warrior who bonded with Maddie and who would go into training sessions with Maddie. So when it was time for us to pick up Maddie, that security company said, you know, warriors not the best at explosive detection, which is what we wanted her for. Because she, she searches a lot with her mouth open and in a situation of life or death with explosives. Dogs who search with their mouth open tend to not be as good at finding explosives. But she was great with with the poop. So Madeon warrior became our first two official, scat dogs. And we brought in a full time person that that was just doing the dogs and started taking interns to work with them. So we had extra hands learning as well. And we did pilot tests in four different regions of Kenya. So this was in 2016, that we started actually doing the pilot tests, and the dogs were doing great. So we move 2017 2018 into more rigorous studies in our main study area up in Samburu. And ultimately, the dog found dogs found 100, scats and 99%. There was like two out of 100 that were not cheetah when we took that back to the lab. So we’ve been writing a couple of papers so that it strengthens our case with authorities giving us permission to come on to private properties going into national parks and reserves. And we in 2019, we got permission to go into Samburu in Buffalo springs National Reserve, which is like one of the first times ever that dogs have been allowed to be used inside of a national park. So they have anti poaching dog units that are on the outskirts, but usually follow outside the park, right for poaching and on a lot of private sanctuaries. So again, we wanted to make sure that we followed up with that. So we published a paper on the use of dogs inside of a national park and reserve and have the buy in from the Kenya Wildlife Service to give us permission, which then you know, letters from AWS saying that we have authority to go into parks, we can take that to people’s private conservancies show them the papers we’ve done and how the dogs can be done very professionally without chasing wildlife away. And I can do what’s needed to be done in places where we really don’t know how many cheetahs or what their connectivity to other areas are.

Kayla Fratt 17:34
Wow, yeah, yeah, no, I mean, I don’t think you have to sell me or our listeners on on the utility of dogs. But it’s really, I mean, major kudos to you to have heard about this. And I mean, you’ve spent 20 years building this program. It’s it’s pretty cool. And then so we’ve got another young dog on the on the team as well right now. So do you want to tell us a little bit about Percy?

Mary Wykstra 17:56
Yeah, so in 2019, one of our consultants had bred his Belgian Malinois who were already trained in security and drug detection. And he happened to have a very large litter that he was able to be selling. So he said I would be willing to donate two of the dogs to your program. And so rd and Percy, Artemis and Persephone were donated to the program. So for the first time, we had Belgian melanomas, which was also another learning curve for us. The level of energy in the and what they’re able to do in detection compared to you know, the, what we call Shenzi dogs are mixed breed dogs who are wonderful, but the drive of the Belgian Malinois. Wow So anyway, unfortunately, earlier this year Artemus passed away due to complications from tick bite fever. And so Percy and Maddie are now the two dogs. I had told you earlier about warrior The reason warriors no longer on the team is that warrior is an older dog and she had a heart murmur. Sorry, my cat is mailing to animal so warrior had a heart murmur that ended up causing her to have a heat stroke while on the job. And so we had to retire her because even on medication, the heart murmur wasn’t going away, and therefore susceptible to heat stroke. So were your loves the couch now? Yeah. On a regular basis. So anyway, I already already was doing well. Persephone is doing wonderfully and Percy and Maddie are about to head back to the field with you.

Kayla Fratt 19:41
Yeah. So I think I’ve told people on the podcast before how I heard about this job and how you and I got connected. But why don’t you tell us a little bit about kind of like the thought process going into fire finding these outside consultants and what you’re really hoping for out of the program in the short term future, and then we’ll we’ll talk long term reach goals at the end.

Mary Wykstra 20:06
So there’s there’s a lot of good detection agency and security agencies here in Kenya, but not a lot of people with conservation dog experience. And so I began reaching out to other organizations, some of which charge very large fees to be able to come and do consultations with us that we just didn’t have the money to do. And so we basically did the advertisement asking for people to come and volunteer to be consultants, and it connected us with you and your organization, with another organization in Austria. And we have been working with another consultant who works in the UK and is mainly with had been mainly with man trailing, and airports. And so we’ve combined all of these people with their behavior knowledge with their conservation dog knowledge with their certification knowledge. And luckily, we got such a great response of people willing to donate their time in exchange for being able to spend time here in Kenya and, and have an opportunity to work in a different area. You know, I think in your case, a lot of it is building your resume as well. Showing that, you know, you can help our program along. And so we’re so grateful for all of these people who have offered to help donate their time for a small research project that doesn’t have a huge amount of funding, but has a huge amount of Drive. So so that’s how we’ve connected with all of these consultants.

Kayla Fratt 21:33
Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. And I think that’s pretty close to what I what I had in mind. So um, you know, right now, what we’ve been looking at a lot is, it seems like the dogs are in pretty good shape, the dogs are doing really, really well. But we’ve got a pretty green team here. So we’re kind of working towards getting everyone up and ready and ready to dive back into a field season Do you have anything you were particularly excited about tackling with the team are excited to see come out of them in the next year or so.

Mary Wykstra 22:03
So we have been doing minor parts of the national survey over the last couple of years. And, you know, what we found in terms of the materials needed for genetic studies have been in a few key areas. And we’ve had a team that has had a high turnover. Again, a lot of it has to do with the pay. But some of it has to do with expectations, comparing to security dogs versus conservation, where you’re just literally out in the field all the time. And a lot of these young people are starting families, not only do they need the finances to start their families, but they don’t want to be away from their families for extended periods of time. So with a super high turnover, and our inability to keep people for more than a couple of years, it has made it really difficult for us to move into, we’re ready to do field work, we’re starting field work, and suddenly people are leaving. So what we geared this segment with all of these advisors is we do have some younger people a little pre family age, that intend to stay with us for a longer period of time. And as they build their skills and get to a point where they continue to take turn take interns and other people as they get to the point where they’re where they are in need of of being able to be closer to family and not out in the field all the time. It is our hope that then they can be given guidance to teams, and not have a turnover where the information leaves the program. And we’re starting over each time a new person comes in. So we’re developing this program now in a way that our interns and our handlers have a longer period of time with each other before the next one might be leaving to go back to school or whatever the other reasons, we’ve had various reasons. You know why people have left the project?

Kayla Fratt (KF) 23:53
Yeah, that makes all the sense in the world. And, you know, I know one of the things you’ve talked about as well is just also planning for okay, if we know that people on average are staying a given amount of time, how can we structure our program and plan for that, and not end up being lost? In the middle or losing losing this knowledge?

Mary Wykstra 24:12
Yeah, you know, and the expectations that people come into a project like this having it’s such a new field, especially for here in Kenya, maybe not as much in in some other countries. But in Kenya, you know, dogs have been used in security for a while dogs have been used in anti poaching. But the idea of searching for species, both in terms of flora and fauna. It’s very new. So we’re building capacity in Kenya, so that also these interns, whatever they decide to do in the future have this background of knowledge that they can take into future jobs, or hopefully for some of these new ones staying with us longer.

Kayla Fratt 24:53
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And you know, and we’ve talked about this before on the show, but even in the US See, which is probably one of the stronger, you know, centerpieces of the conservation dog world. That expectation game is hard to set. And it’s even if you kind of think you know what you’re getting into. And, you know, I know whenever I’ve interviewed for jobs, I’ve, you know, I’ve been told, you know, we’ve all been told, and I’ve still certainly had times where I’m out in the field, it’s, you know, whether it’s our 14th and 80 degrees, or, you know, it’s 4am and freezing rain, I’m just like, God, why am I doing this? And

Mary Wykstra 25:36
it’s a hard job. It’s a really hard job, and very difficult to have a turnover in the kind of pay that you guys deserve.

Kayla Fratt 25:43
Yes. Yeah. And that’s, it’s not unique to a ck, it’s, it’s an endemic problem. You know, I can’t speak for everywhere, obviously, but pretty much everyone I know, in the US, myself included, has multiple jobs. And it’s kind of constantly piecing things together. And, yeah, it’s, there’s not enough money in conservation period, there’s not enough money in dog training period. And it doesn’t get better when you combine the two.

Mary Wykstra 26:08
Right? Right. And, you know, in Kenya, it’s not as easy for people to have multiple jobs as it is in America either. So you know, when when you have a job like this, that is not paying enough to support a family, they have to leave and go into a higher paying job in order to support their family. And when you’re doing conservation, you’re not selling a product. You’re selling an experience, you’re selling enlightenment, you’re selling knowledge, and that’s what donors give money for. But you’re not selling a product that people buy, and you can raise the price to give your people your staff higher pay. Right, right. So we rely completely we are 100%, a donor dependent organization. And it’s not an easy sell to try to continue year after year saying we need support for our dogs.

Kayla Fratt 26:58
Yeah, well, and especially, you know, even with, you know, the differences between different countries or the internet situation, you know, out in Samburu, like there’s no way that while you’re at your field station in Sunbury, you could maintain another job. But at least here and not that this is better, I think you’re right that this makes the the job thing harder, or having multiple jobs because your handlers are full time they live on site with the dogs. There’s no ability to kind of juggle things versus how I do it. Because I run my own company, I’m able to say, Okay, three days a week, I’m working on canine conservationists one day a week, I’m teaching skiing, and one day a week, I’m working on freelance writing, and I kind of cobble things together, or I freelance right in the evenings or whatever. And that’s just, I mean, a, it kind of sucks. And be it’s, it’s not for everyone, just as far as their skill sets, or what other whatever other jobs they want. And see, it’s not always possible, depending on you know, where you are, or what you’re doing. So you know, and we don’t need to turn this into a finances gripe fest, but but it is part of that,

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Mary Wykstra 28:02
well, you know, and then there’s social life to where we have our field site where the cheetahs live is 40 minutes from the nearest town, four to five hours from the nearest kind of city where there’s a social life of any kind, and 12 hours from Nairobi, where is the kind of center where a lot of people are based. So it isn’t easy when you’re living 24/7 with the same people, and you get a short break, to have a continuous social life of friends or family. So it is a really hard job for people to want to stay with for a very, very extended period of time. Not a lot of people like me just give up everything and say this is what I want to do. I love living alone, you know, and living in isolation, but but it’s rewarding for me. And I know that you know whether it’s the couple of handlers that you’re training right now with us, or some of the next ones coming in the right people will come forward.

Kayla Fratt 29:06
Yeah, yeah, no, and I think I think you’re making all the right steps. Not that I’m an expert, but it seems to me like you’re, you’re thinking really far ahead. And you’re thinking about the right things here. So kind of with that, as we’re more or less closing out here. What are some of the bigger dreams that you have? If you have any that you’re excited to share? For cheetahs for Scott dogs for Kenya, what are you hoping to see in the next 510 15 years?

Mary Wykstra 29:33
So with the scat dogs program, we will have between two and five years worth of work specifically in our management plan for the dogs. And of course, you can’t just say thanks, dogs bite, let’s put you in a cage or let’s give you to no family. We want to make sure that the dogs also have some sustainability in the conservation world. So my dream for the scat dog program is that If we can show the conservation world here in Kenya, the use of the dogs, and we can extend into other species, we’ve had interest from people studying leopards, elephants Okapi Bongo plants. So we’ve got a lot of interest coming in now that we’re establishing ourselves as an organization. So my dream for this program is that it will take a life of its own, and can be a project not just under AC K, but can be a project that goes underneath the carnivores livelihoods and landscapes element as a program that is in itself sustainable. For Action for two dozen Kenya. We know that she does our declining an average of about 2% annually throughout their range, and the connectivity side of things, the cub trade, the retaliation for livestock loss are all contributing to that loss. And so to increase what we can do for cheetahs, first of all, we need to have a really good education center that does good outreach, we need to have a facility that can handle orphaned cheetahs that do come in whether they get orphaned because of retaliation hit by cars. And as we do this research to try to establish locations where cheetahs are sustainable, it would be great to be able to bring those babies back into the wild and make sure that they have a place where they can be sustainable. So our long term goal is to have a conservation center that encompasses the dog program, what to do with orphan and injured cheetahs how to rehabilitate those cheetahs, and how to bring people both local and international in for educational opportunities. So that’s the big grand plan.

Kayla Fratt 31:51
Yeah, it’s I mean, gosh, we’re I think we’re all in your corner. And I’ll really rooting for you. And, you know, the team at Canine conservationists is super excited to be involved and help out as much as we can or as much as we need. And, yeah, so with that, you know, we haven’t talked too much about the cub trade. And I know you just had a pretty intense experience with the cub trade. Would you be willing to tell us a little bit about that?

Mary Wykstra 32:16
Yeah, so we’ve maintained a partnership with the cheetah Conservation Fund, whose main base there is in Namibia. However, the organization had found out about an area in Somaliland, where most of the cub trade is passing through and getting into the port and getting into into the trade industry alongside of the other illegal activities of ivory and rhino horns. So once they started to work with the Somaliland government and found out that Somaliland was confiscating clubs, but they didn’t know what to do with them, the cheetah Conservation Fund helped set up some safe houses, which the Somaliland government does all of the law enforcement and is the ones who, who confiscate these cubs, and then the cheetah conservation fund with their experience has been able to take care of the Cubs. And it started there about four years ago with CCF and some of their partners and some friends of mine. And now they have a total of 80 cheetahs, that holy cow. And that is a survival rate of just a little over 50% of the Cubs that get taken in. So if you imagine if the Somaliland government wasn’t enforcing the laws, and if CCF wasn’t there to take the Cubs, and how many of those actually survived to get to their ultimate destination? And then what kind of quality of life do they have when they get there? In the Middle Eastern countries where this cup trade is going into, they advertise freely on social media. So we have been working with these other partners to try to help raise that awareness that if you see that you report it, and you ask the social media organizations not to endorse cup trade by allowing those things to be done of any of the illegal trade, not just cheetahs, right? It’s happening with many species throughout the world that you can buy them on the internet. So when you do see those kinds of things, write to your social media representatives and ask them to please not allow this to happen on the social media.

Kayla Fratt 34:25
Yeah, yeah, that’s mind blowing to me. I couldn’t even get on Facebook marketplace here and here in Kenya. Maybe that’s why Yeah, and to confirm cheetahs are not suited to be pets right?

Mary Wykstra 34:40
No, not only not only does it take them out of the wild to make them into pets because they do not breed well in captivity, nor should they be bred for pets and on a grand scale of things. They’re wild cats. They are not the kind of cats like with lions and leopards and tigers that kill people easily that cheetahs throughout historical records have been kept as pets by Cleopatra and czars and Caesars who use them in in sport, and things like that. So, because they are a docile animal, they’ve been brought into the pet trade easily just because

Kayla Fratt 35:18
they they don’t actually eat you right away.

Mary Wykstra 35:22
They don’t kill you. But do they make good pets? No, they don’t listen, like a dog listens. They pee on things. They chew things. They have sharp claws. It’s not good to take their teeth and their claws out just to get them to stop doing that. Yeah. But that is what some people will do. So making good pets No, yeah. Yeah, being habituated to being around humans. That’s what makes them get into the pet trade in the first place. Yeah.

Mary Wykstra 35:51
Excuse me. Um, so I don’t even remember what I was about to say sorry.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 35:57
Oh, that’s okay. I was going to ask one of the things that I was really shocked about when you were talking about your experience in Somaliland was kind of the conditions these clubs were being kept in during transport. And, you know, why don’t you talk a little bit about that. But the thing that really boggles my mind is if we’re if animal ethics aside, conservation aside, the economics of what you’re describing don’t make sense to me as far as the incredibly low survival rate.

Kayla Fratt 36:29
Again, conservation and animal rights aside, I don’t understand how it makes sense to treat the Cubs during transport the way that they’re treated. So why don’t you talk a little bit about that.

Mary Wykstra 36:42
The money for the country is at the top the people who buy from the what do you call the people who connect people middleman, the middleman the the dealers. So the dealers are making huge amounts of money, they pay the middlemen, a little bit of money, and the middlemen pay the people who are pulling these cups out of the wild even less, yeah, however, you’re looking at a very desperate Yeah, a group of people who are going through droughts and locusts and, and livestock diseases and everything that’s happening on the ground, and every little bit of money for them is essential. So you’ve got all of these tiers in which the trade happens. Addressing it from the top down means finding the people who are buying those cubs. Addressing it from the bottom up means alternative livelihoods for them to be able to survive without needing to do this illegal trade. And those people in the ground put their lives on the line. They’re the ones getting arrested, mostly, the middlemen, sometimes the top guys rarely get arrested. So the middlemen are the ones putting their lives on the line for pittance. So when they pull a cup of the wild first of all, not knowing much about how to keep a cup surviving. Second of all, not making enough money to say I’m going to spend good money to take good care of these cubs to get them to the dealer. They’re throwing them food that cheetahs don’t eat. What we found in stomachs is soaked bread with milk soaked rice, the little tiny fish that we call a mana here, which is like a little smelt type fish. And she just don’t eat fish, right. So they get they if they get food at all, they get high, Fatty, not boiled and cared well for so the the Cubs that come into the confiscations are taken away from their mother for a period of time, most of them will be put into a small room we had 15 confiscated at once, that we believe they were just thrown food into their cage, the biggest ones would get the food first. The little ones got no food, the ones who died in the initial stages, their stomachs were empty. They were completely malnourished, dehydrated and starving to death. And so these people that pick up 15 Cheetos, maybe one or two or three get to the end person who pays $10,000 for it. Yeah.

Kayla Fratt 38:57
Which honestly seems like a shockingly low price to be like, I you. Yeah, it seems like that should be more expensive.

Mary Wykstra 39:10
I wouldn’t want to make it more

Kayla Fratt 39:13
expensive. Oh, no, I just know, I don’t want it to be I don’t want it to be cheaper either, I guess. But I would have thought it would be more.

Mary Wykstra 39:21
Right. Yeah, I think 10 To 15 to maybe 20,000 maximum is what people are paying in the end product. But but like I said, the people at the bottom and who are the one was grabbing a bunch of Cheetos, sticking them in boxes and saying, you know, give me my $100 For this, you know, Ryan, because that’s all they have to live on. Right? And so, you know, you can kind of understand why people are doing it at those ends for that element. But when you look at how much these cubs suffer, I mean I you know, just coming back from Somaliland and and holding these babies while they’re dying and knowing that they were just with their mother’s purring a few days before that, or a week before that, yeah. It breaks your heart. Yeah, completely.

Kayla Fratt 40:07
Yeah, no. And that I think that that was a piece that I had been missing as far as, obviously it makes sense that you wouldn’t know and that you’re operating on this desperation economy of. Yeah, of course, this makes so much more sense. And I can’t believe I didn’t see it. Of course, you’re not spending a bunch of time collecting a variety of meats or the correct milk or, you know, I don’t know what she does need as far as some sort of weird cheetah kitten milk replacement. You know, of course, they don’t have access to that and they’re not making enough money. They’re like, the whole reason they’re doing this is they don’t have the money. So, of course, we’re not taking care of these orphan cheetahs, the way that a zoo or you all with rehab are able to,

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Mary Wykstra 40:51
you know, and again, what the cheetah Conservation Fund is doing right now it’s costing hundreds and 1000s of dollars per cat to keep it alive. The next thing that happens with these babies, when they come from their mother, most of them are at an age where they would still be drinking some mother’s milk, which gives them resistance to bacterias. And diseases. Yeah, you take away that mother’s milk, you start throwing a new food at them. And suddenly their bacteria in their stomach goes berserk. Yeah. And they’re more susceptible to all of the cat and dog diseases from every street dog that you step in unknowingly poop or pee out on the streets, you bring it back into those cubs, they get exposed to something they’ve never been exposed to. So in addition to the malnourishment, the starvation, the dehydration, now you’re bringing in bacterias, and viruses that that, you know, almost every cub that passed away. In those few weeks that I was in Namibia was some different symptoms that all started out thinking it was just the malnourishment. But then it looked like maybe it could be bacteria, then we’ll maybe it’s a virus. But you know, you’re sitting in a third world country where you don’t have access to all of the best equipment and testing kits and things like that, you by the time you mail it out of the country, the baby’s already gone. So it’s a big combination of all of that, that those cubs survival in transit is not happening to. And so an issue that’s being studied by the organization also is feline infectious peritonitis, which all of you that have cats know that you vaccinate your cats against that, but not so much in third world countries. So FoIP is prevalent in domestic cats and street cats. When those cubs get brought into a city, they then get exposed to FRP. Once a cat is positive for FoIP, even if you are vaccinating that cat and keeping its resistance up, it can test negative but then two weeks later, something stresses that cat out, it becomes positive, it gets sick. So again, if anybody’s ever had a cat that keeps getting the recurrent cat flu is what a lot of times your vets will tell you a lot of times it is FYP. And that FoIP virus sheds every time the animal has symptoms. So therefore it can get into other cats, cheetahs, lions, everything, too. So about 60% of those cubs that are are at the facility in Somaliland right now are positive for FYP. So even if it were possible to develop a facility as quickly as possible, get those cheetahs as wild as possible. You can’t put them back in the wild, they’re now sick and shedding a virus that will get into cats that haven’t been vaccinated. Right. So it’s impossible to put them back into the wild now.

Kayla Fratt 43:44
So what do you do?

Mary Wykstra 43:46
It has to be addressed at all of these levels that we’re talking about. It has to be addressed at the bottom line, people who are doing it to make an a cost of living, it’s got to be the middlemen about why it’s so wrong for them to be doing that. I mean, we have drugs in every country, the drug cartel are in the same thing. The middlemen are the ones who get shot all the time, right. And they still do it for the pittance that they make out of it. And then you’ve got the dealers who are sitting high and pretty, making lots of money, but not even really completely some of those dealers don’t even really know what happens on the ground. They just know we get this little fluffy kitten. We sell it for lots of money. It’s cute. It’s fun. We made a lot of money. You know, but do they really care about the suffering and a mother cheetah who just lost her babies and all of that? They don’t care. It’s all about money.

Kayla Fratt 44:34
Right? And so, I know you’ve also you were talking last nights, we were at a presentation last night and you were talking about some exciting research that’s been coming out about so these these cubs that are not FoIP positive, potentially having some hope for being able to release them.

Mary Wykstra 44:52
There. There’s a 15 year study that was just published by the cheetah Conservation Fund again, that act really looks at under what circumstances can they have success for putting cubs back into the wild. And, you know, one of the first things that we’ve always tried to do in the past when you want to try to rehabilitate a cheetah is you think, okay, a mother cheetah, the cubs are released from the mother somewhere between 12 and 18 months on general. And so we want to get those cubs ready to go in a year and put them in the wild. And there was a less than 5% success rate in doing that. But what has been realized is if you take a little bit longer, you also do have to have the right release circumstances, you have to have introductory areas, you have to be feeding the Cubs the right food, you have to be taking the Cubs for very long walks in order to teach a cheetah to be a cheetah. So that particular cheetahs still may not live a lot of years in the wild, but it can live to reproductive age where it can produce some babies. And it can be free instead of in a cage. Yeah. Which is where cheetahs belong. Right?

Kayla Fratt (KF) 45:58
Well, and that also, you know, thinking of this from a background and animal sheltering, that then frees up staff time and resources and a run. I suppose you probably don’t use kennels, for the next round of cops that are coming in. Because one of the things I’m imagining is this pace of you know, in four years in Somaliland, they’ve got 80 cats. They can’t keep growing at that rate, can they? They can’t like, yeah,

Mary Wykstra 46:29
a year ago, I went there to assist with some of the design elements, I used to design exhibits in zoos as my career. And so I was asked by CCF to come and take a look at where their facilities were and what I would recommend from an exhibit design standpoint. And from my now more knowledge about cheetahs in the wild as well. And we were at first designing a place for 100 cheetahs. And actually, yeah, they had they had about when I was there, then they had about maybe what 45 or something like that. So we thought 100 cheetahs at first would be good. And and it was like no, we really actually have to start designing for like 200. Yeah. And for what are we going to do with the 60% that are carrying FoIP? If we don’t find a way between the domestic cat researchers and the Wildcat researchers to control F IP, they can’t go back. Yeah. So you have to design someplace where they can be. And you have to work very, very much with the people enforcing the law to stop these cubs from getting in there in the first place. Yeah. So this brings us back to the dogs by the way, and and why it’s so important that we get all of the national survey done with the dogs is because the genetics from the samples throughout Kenya are going to show us about 25% of the Cubs that are coming through Kenya we believe are coming from either Tanzania or Kenyan populations, through Somaliland into Somaliland. Yeah. Did I did I say that wrong? The first time you said Kenya twice, about 25% of the Cubs that are coming into Somaliland are coming from these lower countries. And if we can find where in our countries they’re coming from, because they’re obviously getting through our strictness clearly, because Kenya does have an extremely good Kenya Wildlife Service and a very good anti poaching anti trade program going but still, rhinos, elephants, and cheetahs are still getting through it. But if we can find where those sources are coming from, and we can get the right kind of enforcement, the right kind of community programs going, people turning each other in, when they know that it’s happening, those people who care and finding a way to stop those cops from getting taken out in the first place. I mean, that’s really the only way is to address the top end. The bottom end and to police the middle ends. Yeah, yeah.

Kayla Fratt 48:59
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Is Yeah, yeah, I yeah, I’m in awe right now. Like, it’s one thing. You know, I know a lot of these things, because we’ve been talking for what, three months now, but you’ve got a big job ahead of you. And I’m impressed. So is there anything else you wanted to bring up or mention or talk more about before we wrap up, and then we will definitely tell people where to donate and some of the things that you’re in desperate need of right now?

Mary Wykstra 49:30
Yeah, I think I’ve probably talked about a lot of the things that I’ve wanted to share. And, you know, specifically, you know, students looking to get into projects, we do have volunteer programs, student programs for people who are coming both locally or support of sorry, internationally or supportive local students. So we can continue to build capacity. You know, from from what you and I have talked about, about employing international people. I prefer to employ Kenyans yeah So I would much prefer to build capacity in Kenya, with the hopes that people like you are willing to volunteer some time to help build that capacity. And I believe that, you know, we have the skills in place to move forward with that capacity building in a way that it doesn’t need to be an international person running a program like this.

Kayla Fratt 50:20
That’s my hope I, you know, I love being here. And I’m excited to be here. But I, I would be really excited to be replaced by a Kenyan as soon as possible. Exactly. So, I think what I’m going to do is I’m going to go ahead and get this published as soon as possible. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about your birthday fundraiser, some stuff on your Amazon wishlist and then we’ll include all of those links in the show notes and people can get get that going before we head on up to Samburu.

Mary Wykstra 50:48
Okay. Yes, our carnivores livelihoods and landscapes, like I said, is the 501 C three organization, I think the majority of your audience is American. So that makes a difference. And we have GoFundMe campaigns. Both of our dogs have birthdays in March and April. And my birthday is in April. So every year I do launch a happy birthday to Marian and the dogs. And so that is on GoFundMe right now. We have a Facebook for our vaccination and sterilization campaign that is running at the moment too, which is also through Facebook goes through the carnivores charity. And so that is running general donations through our website, the action for tutors in Kenya website. And, you know, like I said, we’re 100% donor dependent. So individual donors, organizational donors in kind support. Amazon smile we have our site is all set up for that. So whenever you make a purchase on Amazon, you can have your small percentage that doesn’t affect what you pay in the end. But Amazon itself makes those donations to charities like ours. So we are set up on that as well.

Kayla Fratt 52:01
Yeah. And you know, one of the things we’re specifically looking for as well as walkie talkies, and radios, so and all of those links to make sure they’re compatible are going to be online, don’t just buy us a radio and send it. And then I will also throw out there that we would, we would gladly take any books on dog training if you’ve got an old dusty copy sitting on your shelf well thumbed copies will take and then wasted leashes and puzzle toys are some of the other things we’ve been looking at for the dogs as far as improving some welfare there. So if you’re interested in anything like that anything used that you have lying around, shoot me an email at Canine [email protected]. And we will figure out how to get it over here. We’ve got people coming in and out of the country who can carry it over so we don’t have to deal with international shipping. So Mary, thank you so much for having me here. Thank you for so much for this conversation. We’ll have several more episodes planned about the time here. But for now, yeah. Thank you so much.

Mary Wykstra 52:59
I’m excited to get you up to Samburu. So you can see where we’re doing this all for because you’ve been in Nairobi where it’s been wonderful for birds and monkeys and things. But we want to get you seeing some cats too.

Kayla Fratt 53:10
Yeah, I I still feel like I have to pinch myself every so often and remind myself that I’m in Kenya. And I’m very excited as well. It’s gonna be a you know, a fun international cross country road trip, nothing like it. And as always, everyone makes sure you check out our Patreon over at conservationists. You can find all of the links for the show tonight show notes at Canine and we will talk to you next time

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