The Republic of Namibia is on southern Africa's west coast. It shares borders with Angola, Zambia, Botswana and South Africa. It gained independence from South Africa in 1990 and is a member state of the United Nations, the Southern African Development Community, the African Union and Commonwealth of Nations.
Namibia is home to the world's largest cheetah population. The world's fastest land animal, the cheetah is the most specialised member of the cat family. It can reach 112kmh and unlike other cats, has a lean body, longer legs and is not aggressive. It has weak jaws and small teeth so cannot fight larger predators to protect its young.
Misconceptions and attitudes about the cheetah and other large predators have led to their endangerment as many people deal with their fear by elimination. Most of Namibia's free-ranging cheetah and leopard populations can be found on 7000 commercial farms. As they prey upon livestock roaming the veld, the carnivores are regarded as vermin and are trapped or killed. To save them from extinction, attitudes must change.
Getaway was privileged to visit Okonjima, a private farm 2.5 hours north of Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. It is nestled among the Omboroko Mountains and is home to the AfriCat Foundation, the world's largest cheetah and leopard rescue and release program.
Okonjima is a family-run business and is malaria-free. Wayne, Donna and Rosalea Hanssen co-own and live on the property which they purchased from their parents in 1993, turning what was a cattle farm into a conservation project.
They have taken on a large number of captive cats and carnivores no longer wanted by other establishments. Among the carnivores being rescued, researched and rehabilitated by AfriCat are cheetah, leopard, lion, caracal, wild dog and hyena. Since 1993 they have saved over 850 cats.
The Hanssens' dream is to turn their 22,000-hectare nature reserve, which was once denuded farmland, back to its natural state, last seen 200 years ago. Their dream must be sustainable and a benefit to local communities and needs to survive the tide of change in Africa.
So far they have removed almost all internal fences, managed water resources, hides, removed undesirable bush encroachment and are making new bush roads.
Not all of the animals AfriCat rescues are able to be returned to the wild. Maybe they have been orphaned or have just lost their instinct to hunt. They would have no chance of survival in the wild and are kept and fed in a separate part of the reserve.
Visitors can observe some of the program at work and learn about the amazing and beautiful animals living there. You will be invited to participate on foot in the radio-tracking of the rehabilitated cheetahs on the tracking trail. This enables their welfare to be monitored.
Accommodation is luxurious. There is a Grand Villa with two rooms and two suites and a select private bush suite with two rooms. The luxury Bush Camp has eight thatched African-style chalets and three ensuite twin tents. The Main Camp has 10 ensuite double rooms and three ensuite twin tents.
A less expensive option is with the Cheetah Conservation Foundation.
Fifty kilometres from Otjiwarongo, the Waterberg Plateau rises 300 metres from the plains, providing a natural haven for wildlife. Several land owners have formed a group to protect the unspoiled region, each offering a variety of activities for visitors, from safari game drives and wilderness trails to cheetah viewing and visits to local Herero villages. Or you can simply relax and enjoy a cocktail, watching a classic African sunset.
CCF's focus is on research, conservation and education. An extensive modern education centre educates visitors about cheetahs, their habitat and issues of conservation, with an opportunity to see resident non-releasable cheetahs.
The centre houses a museum, providing the opportunity to learn more about the behaviour and biology of the cheetah and the Namibian ecosystem that supports Africa's most endangered cat species.
SafariWise Big Cat Experience is one of the few opportunities in the world to see four species of big cat cheetah, leopard, lion and caracal up close and with safety.
North central Namibia.
SafariWise has six-day Big Cats of Africa tours, including accommodation, meals, transfers and AfriCat experience for $2850 per person twin-share. They operate year round.
You can visit the Cheetah Conservation Fund centre for a donation of around $12. To volunteer for two weeks, prices start at around $3500 per person. Board, meals and training are included. They are open for casual visitors year round between 9am and 5pm.
South Africa Airways has flights to Windhoek, from:
- Sydney, $2894
- Brisbane, $3249
- Melbourne, $3250
- Adelaide, $3264
Valid for sale and travel until March, 2008.
Prices correct at August 16, 2007.
For more information
PO Box 793
Ph: 264 67 687032 /3/4
Fax: 264 67 304565/ + 264 67 687051
The AfriCat Foundation
PO Box 1889
Ph: +264 (0) 67 304566/687127
Fax: +264 (0) 67 687129
Cheetah Conservation Fund
PO Box 1755
Ph: +264 (0) 67 306 225
Fax: +264 (0) 67 306 247
South African Airways
1800 221 699
1800 099 281 Western Australia