Half way between Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, and the great Etosha National Park, is Okonjima, home to the AfriCat Foundation. Okonjima boasts some of the best accommodation in Namibia and it’s very likely you’ll want to include a couple of nights here during your holiday with us.
But there are lots of fantastic places to stay in Namibia, so what’s so special about this one? One of the overwhelming reasons is because you’ll have the chance to join rangers as they track the radio collared leopard and cheetah that roam in the 200 square kilometer nature reserve: this is the opportunity of a lifetime to see these big cats close up.
In the early 1920’s Okonjima became a cattle farm and was then brought by the Hanssen family in 1970. The family were established Brahman cattle breeders, however, they soon had problems with losing livestock to predators; in fact Okonjima’s previous owners had given up farming due to high stock losses inflicted by leopard.
Back then at Okonjima, and on farms across Namibia, leopard were trapped and shot in efforts to protect cattle. They estimate that between 1970 and 1990, an average of 3 leopards were killed annually at Okonjima. But this method proved ineffective at reducing cattle losses as leopard from neighbouring land quickly took over the unoccupied territory. Val and Wayne Hanssen realised they needed a different approach and started to learn more about the leopard on their farm, and their behaviour, setting up camera traps to study individuals.
At the same time, Okonjima guest farm was attracting vistors interested in wildlife. Visitors would accompany Wayne at night as he photographed leopard, spend time bird watching and walk the trails through the farm that are so popular now.
After giving a home to Chinga, a cheetah cub found in a cage at an auction in 1989, the Hanssen’s were approached by a number of farmers to take care of cheetah and leopard that had been trapped on their farms in an effort to stop livestock losses. Since then, AfriCat has rescued over 1,100 cheetah, leopard and lion. 85% have been returned to the wild but those that are injured, or orphaned and too young to survive alone, roam free at Okonjima and it’s these that you’ll meet. They are radio collared so they can be checked and monitored daily.
Getting on to the good news…and the lions
Fast forward to today and Okonjima is home to the AfriCat Foundation, a charity set up by the Hanssen family, committed to the long term conservation of Namibia’s large carnivores, particularly cheetah, brown hyaena, lion, wild dog and leopard.
An example of AfriCat’s valuable work can be seen at the Hobatere Lion Research Project in the Hobatere Concession Area to the west of Etosha National Park. Hobatere shares a fence with Etosha National Park that’s been flattened in places by elephants, allowing lion to pass through – meaning it’s possible that lion may live in the protected national park, and venture into the livestock farming areas of the concession. Understandably this is a problem.
In Namibia, the amount of land accessible to lion has been increasing as more areas are managed as communal conservancies, but lion numbers are declining faster than other carnivores.
The Hobatere concession, like many others, is made up of settlement areas, hunting zones and core conservation areas – areas protected from other use apart from tourism. Where numbers of lion, and other big game, aren’t big enough to attract sufficient numbers of tourists to fund management of the concession, it’s funded by hunting quotas. Lion prey on livestock and are often trapped and shot. Commumal farming communities struggle to attach a value to living lions, all in all leading to spiralling decline.
So, in 2013, AfriCat set up trail cameras in the Hobatere concession, western Etosha and surrounding farmland and 7 lion were radio collared to establish where exactly they were spending their time.
In addition to monitoring lion movements, the AfriCat Livestock Protection Programme set up or upgraded, 8 noctornal livestock karaals in hotspot areas where lion had been seen to move repeatedly. They erected a fence around the village of Werda where lions moved through regularly and had become habituated to humans. They reinstated herdsmen to take care of livestock during the day and involved the community in conservation education with the aim of gaining acceptance of the lion’s role in the ecosystem, and of their value as a sustainable tourist attraction.
At the time, they also recommended the lion hunting quota be put on hold to establish whether the take off was sustainable.
The aim of AfriCat’s work here was, and is, to instil and facilitate the belief and reality that lion have more value to the community alive, through the tourism revenue they generate. Work is ongoing to make sure the revenue filters down to individuals.
When you stay at Okonjima, not only will you enjoy comfortable surroundings, great food and delicious wine, you’ll be contributing to AfriCat’s great work through your fees. When you join a guided leopard or cheetah drive or guided walk you’ll help fund more projects that educate the next generation about carnivore conservation, assist with farmer-predator conflict resolution, support research and monitoring and help with big cat care and rehabilitation.
Take me there…
We’ve put together four itineraries, carefully crafted to give you the best possible holiday experience in Namibia; but everything can be tailored to your interests and needs. To start planning your Namibia holiday call our destination specialists Emma or Susanne on 01768 721020.