By Jason & Lyndon Duplessis
While we had wonderful luck with lions in Etosha, we didn’t see any leopard or cheetah. They really are much more secretive and difficult to see. Today we were on the way to Okonjima, the home of the AfriCat Foundation. AfriCat is well known around Namibia for teaching the local population about how to live with predators instead of trying to exterminate them as if they were pests. Many of the leopards and cheetah in the Okonjima reserve are previously rescued and re-released into the wild successfully. The drive was very short and all on paved roads. We arrived in time for a nice rest and a wonderful lunch salad before our afternoon activity: leopard tracking.
We left the camp at around 4 to try and find a leopard via tracking collar. This might sound easy, but the landscape at Okonjima is quite mountainous and full of areas a vehicle cannot traverse. We spent about an hour tracking a weak signal from a leopard and decided that a higher altitude would help out. Just as we made it to a nice cliff to track from, we noticed what looked like a leopard statue in the middle of a green grassy garden. Sure enough, we found our leopard! She rolled around in the grass for us then walked toward us, eventually heading off into the bush where she hid from everyone for hours. Our vehicle was the only one to get a glimpse of leopards that evening. While the viewing was very short, it was memorable.
Okonjima main camp itself was just outside the reserve which was a good thing. It was safe to walk between the lodge and tents without fear of wild animals interfering. There were still some antelope and warthogs around, which have a chance to come drink at the lovely water hole that the main eating/lounging area surrounds. The room we stayed in was a large round chalet with en suite facilities and about a third of the wall was a large open window with a view of the bush. For dinner there was a set menu, but the kitchen will listen to requests from guests. Breakfast had a somewhat small buffet but included an egg/omelet station which is always our first choice for breakfast.
Our morning activity was cheetah tracking. We thought it would be all in the vehicles but after getting close to the cheetah (also via tracking collars) we left the vehicle and went on foot! We were all a bit nervous but the guides assured us that the cheetahs we were tracking had previously been released successfully into the wild by AfriCat. While they were not tame by any means, they were habituated to humans over the years. We finally stumbled across two lovely cheetahs resting in the morning sun, their bellies obviously full. Never have we been so close to cheetah on foot. It was quite an experience that we will never forget!
After about an hour of viewing, we decided to leave the cheetah to have their rest. We were off to the main offices of AfriCat which was a very educational visit. They showed us how AfriCat works to educate the local farmers and their children about living with predators. While there, the “Adopt a Spot” program was brought to our attention. It helps visitors donate small amounts which add up to adopting an entire cheetah or leopard. Here’s a photo of Jason painting the spot that we adopted for Fish Eagle Safaris!
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