DECAN Cheetah Reserve

Information for this story provided by Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa Public Affairs

Awale, one of the cheetahs at Discover and Aid Nature Refuge, rolls around while waiting for feeding time at the DECAN Refuge in Djibouti. (U.S. Army photo by Specialist Michelle C. Lawrence)

The DECAN animal refuge, which stands for Discover and Aid Nature, was founded by a  French veterinarian, Dr. Bertrand LaFrance, in May 2001, to protect wildlife and develop a knowledge of nature throughout Djibouti. The association works closely with local schools and the French and U.S. militaries to educate about environmental and ecological issues in Africa.

The association’s first mission was to protect sea turtles. Throughout Djibouti, restaurant owners were serving turtle soup, so LaFrance began convincing them to stop serving it, and for people to stop buying it, Johnson said.

While travelling among the different local restaurants on his turtle-saving campaign, LaFrance came upon a baby cheetah, chained up and on display for the entertainment of patrons. In Djibouti, it’s illegal to own any exotic animals. Knowing this, but fearing for his and the animal’s safety, LaFrance had a patron convince the restaurant owners that the cheetah was sick and needed to be brought to his office for treatment.

When the owners arrived at Dr. LaFrance’s practice, he had the police waiting to confiscate the cheetah.  This is how his efforts to protect cheetahs and other exotic animals from ownership and exploitation began in Djibouti.

At one point, LaFrance harbored five cheetahs in the backyard of his veterinary practice. These five were rescued as babies, between 2000 and 2002. By late 2002, they were beginning to jump the fences into the neighbors’ yards, Johnson said, and LaFrance approached the Djiboutian government to ask for land to build a refuge. The government agreed, and granted him 35 acres.

Construction on the refuge began in 2002 and the initial phase was opened in 2003. It was referred to as the Cheetah Refuge because the cheetahs were the main reason he established it, even though the habitat also housed gazelles, tortoises and caracals.

DECAN Cheetah Reserve provides entertainment and volunteer opportunities for service members deployed to Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti, and service members are taking advantage of the unique opportunity to help the exotic wildlife.  Click here to see:



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