Okonjima and The AfriCat Foundation
Saving Namibia's large carnivores
The AfriCat Foundation, formally established in 1993, is a non-profit organisation whose mission is to save Namibia's large carnivores. The Foundation is achieving their goal through farmer assistance, youth education, research and animal welfare. Based near Otjiwarongo, about 2½ hours north of Windhoek, their main objective is to find solutions to alleviate the conflict between these large carnivores (especially cheetahs and leopards) and the 7,000 Namibian farmers (both livestock and game), whose free-roaming livestock and game are easy prey for these predators.
Namibia is home to approximately 25% of the world's cheetah population, of which 90% live on farmland. Little is known about leopards on farmland, but it is estimated that there are between 4,000 and 8,000 leopards in the country. Namibia's lion population is said to be between 300 - 600 animals.
Okonjima - Home to the AfriCat Foundation
Visitors to Namibia can visit this project by staying one or ideally 2 nights at either Okonjima Plains Camp or Bush Camp, the home of the AfriCat Foundation. Here, guests have the opportunity to not only visit the Cheetah Project, where they are given an invaluable insight into the welfare work of the AfriCat Foundation, but also track cheetahs on foot within the cheetah rehabilitation area and view leopards from game viewing vehicles.
humans versus predators
The inevitable conflict occurs when farmers lose their livestock to predators. As a result, these predators are often regarded as 'vermin' by the livestock community, and removing them seems to be the only solution to the problem. The animals are often caught in box or gin traps, poisoned, or are shot on sight. The AfriCat Foundation is on hand to assist any farmer who has caught a predator alive in a trap. To save the animal from possibly being shot, the Foundation will travel to the farm to collect the animal, and bring it back to the AfriCat Foundation. This contact with the farmer also enables the Foundation to promote sound livestock management techniques as an effective solution to livestock losses rather than carnivore losses.
When a cheetah or leopard has been caught in a trap, the surrounding area is checked for any signs indicating that animal might not have been alone before being caught. Every effort is made to keep social groups together - coalitions, siblings and especially a mother and her cubs.If required, attempts are made to capture those that have not yet been caught. If the predator is not a livestock killer, and is in a healthy condition, AfriCat will try to release the animal as soon as possible, with the farmer's permission, in the same or similar area. Predators who, however, have been responsible for regularly killing livestock are relocated to game reserves, and are released with radio-collars so they can be tracked and monitored.
Over the last 10 years, nearly 90% of all the cheetahs and leopards rescued from traps by AfriCat have been released or relocated. Those that have been injured are returned to the wild after they have recuperated at the on-site veterinary clinic. In cases where their injuries have been too extensive, and they are unable to be released, the cats remain in care at the Foundation.
Occasionally, adult cheetahs, leopards and lions are run over by cars, leaving cubs behind that are unable to fend for themselves. AfriCat provides the care and attention to ensure the survival of these orphans. The AfriCat Cheetah Rehabilitation project was initiated to give some of the cheetah orphans an opportunity to return to their natural environment. Many of the cubs were orphaned at such a young age they did not learn the necessary hunting skills from their mother.
The cheetahs are given the opportunity to hone their hunting skills in their natural environment whilst being closely monitored. Once they have proved that they can hunt and sustain themselves, they are relocated to private game reserves (rather than farmland), where their progress is continually monitored. If the cheetah is unable to be rehabilitated for whatever reason, it will remain at the AfriCat Foundation in one of the many large enclosures there. These range in size from 10 to 150 hectares.
problems associated with captivity
Many of the cheetahs and leopards that are taken in have been in captivity - anyone residing on a farm in Namibia used to be able to own large carnivores as pets. Many of these animals are either no longer wanted, or have become too expensive to care for properly, or have been confiscated by the authorities for being held illegally or with improper care. These animals are unsuitable for release, as they have become habituated to people or completely tame, so they remain at the Foundation.
All the cheetahs, leopards and lions at the AfriCat Foundation are monitored closely every day, and undergo an annual health examination where their eyes and teeth are checked, and blood samples taken and analysed for viral antibodies. All the animals are also vaccinated. The animals are all fed a balanced diet, which consists of fresh meat with supplements. Any health problems are dealt with immediately, and the animals are dewormed 4 times a year to protect them from parasites. Both the cheetahs and leopards are put on contraception, to prevent breeding in captivity.
Data is collected and a record kept of every cheetah and leopard that comes through the AfriCat programme. This includes details such as where the animal was caught and reason for its capture, as well as characteristics such as age, weight and measurements. The information gained provides invaluable data on the demographics and genetic make-up of the wild cheetah and leopard populations living on Namibian farmland.
The success of the africat project
Since 1993, over 1,070 cheetahs and leopards have been through the AfriCat project. Besides giving the animals a chance to return to the wild, the the project provides the opportunity to assess whether rehabilitation is a successful means of conserving an endangered population. The Foundation relies on donations and support from private donors and larger conservation and animal welfare organisations. If you would like more information on the Foundation, please click on the following link: www.africat.org.