I have been fortunate to have seen many different animals in the wild, or in ethical preservation projects. When asked to name my favourite I am always torn between elephants and the various big cats. Usually my answer is whichever I have seen most recently, as it’s impossible for me to choose!
Some years ago we stayed at Okonjima Lodge in Namibia. I featured our visit in an earlier post about memorable places where we have stayed, Wherever I lay my hat.
As I explained there, the lodge is partnered with the Africat Foundation, and now I want to share more about the work of the foundation and the beautiful animals it helps.
The story of Africat
The foundation was formed by Wayne Hanssen who grew up at Okonjima when it was his parents’ farm. He, like the rest of his family, realised that the accepted practice of mitigating farming losses by trapping, shooting and hunting cheetahs and leopards made little impact. Losses of 20 to 30 cows per year decimated their herds and caused huge financial losses; a situation that impacted smaller, traditional farmers even more. As the website explains,
Observing this cycle, the decimation, the death, the losses, the degradation of the land, the consistent grind of farming life, and the horrendous destruction of the large carnivores, Wayne committed to do better.
To rethink. To restore. To walk in tandem with the land and with wildlife rather than dominate. To find a permanent solution for the farmers AND for the carnivores.
So the Hanssens switched their focus from farming to the creation of a large private nature reserve. Their goal was to restore the land to what it once looked like, before farming methods destroyed it; and to protect the cheetahs and leopards.
Africat today is well-established non-profit organisation devoted to the conservation of cheetahs and leopards: rescuing animals that have been trapped by local farmers; providing humane housing, treatment and care for orphaned and injured animals; educating visitors and local people, especially farmers and school-children, about the animals they protect.
They provide a home and care for animals that cannot at present be released back into the wild, often orphaned cubs that are too young to cope on their own. These have either been captured without their mothers or their mothers have been killed.
Most of the cheetahs and leopards that have suffered injuries are returned to the wild after recuperation; but in cases where the injuries have been too extensive, the cats have had to remain in captivity. There are also some animals that have been in captivity elsewhere and have become habituated to people or completely tame, making them unsuitable for release. Those that have to remain at the foundation for these reasons are housed in spacious enclosures of around five hundred acres in a natural, stress-free environment.
By staying at Okonjima you are supporting the work of Africat. So of course everyone who stays here is taken to see the cats. On our visit we went first to see the clinic and food preparation area. We then went into the cheetahs’ huge enclosure in jeeps which were delivering their food (very large and bloody joints of game!) I’d imagined that we’d be lucky to spot a few cheetahs in the distance but that wasn’t the case at all.
The rangers can identify roughly whereabouts in the enclosure the cheetahs currently are, as they are all radio-collared. And once the jeeps are close to them there is no need to search further. They have learned to associate the noise of the vehicles with food and soon came running towards us. It was a fantastic experience to see how fast and how beautifully they run, and then to be able to watch them from such a close distance – at times only a metre from the jeep.
I am sharing these wonderful spotted creatures for Ann-Christine’s Lens-Artist Challenge theme of Spots and Dots. The word cheetah comes from the Sanskrit word, chitraka, which means ‘spotted one’, so what could be more appropriate?
I visited Namibia in 2004