Photo courtesy of AfriCat.

Why AfriCat Should Be Part of Your Namibian Safari

Headquartered at the base of the Omboroko Mountains in northern Namibia, AfriCat Foundation started out with a mission statement to “keep wild cats wild.” This is reflected in its name—“AfriCat” can be pronounced “A free cat.” Over its three decades, AfriCat has rescued more than 1,060 predators, and more than 85 percent of those were released back into the wild.

Today the AfriCat Foundation continues its focus on protecting the freedom and well-being of wild animals. It is committed to the long-term conservation of Namibia’s wildlife, with a focus on endangered species like the pangolin, brown hyena and leopard. Its mission is to make a significant contribution to conservation through research and education.

Read on to learn more about AfriCat and why a visit to its headquarters at Okonjima Nature Reserve is a great addition to any Namibian safari.

leopard jumps out of crate in back of truck at AfriCat wildlife rehabilitation program at okonjima nature reserve

Radio collars help scientists at AfriCat track the movements and behavior of large carnivores. Here, a leopard is re-released in Okonjima Nature Reserve after its radio collar is fitted with new batteries. Photo courtesy of AfriCat.

History of AfriCat: From Enemies to Friends

Two of the greatest threats facing large cats are ongoing conflicts with humans and the disappearance of their habitat. In Namibia, farms and ranches attract carnivores who have shrinking access to protected wild lands. Many farmers turn to shooting or poisoning predators in order to protect their livestock.

The AfriCat Foundation was started by a family that had experienced the predator-farmer conflict first hand.

A Family Farm

In 1970, the Hanssen family bought a cattle ranch about 100 miles south of Etosha National Park. They lost 20 to 30 calves each year to predators and tried the only solutions they knew of: hunting, trapping, and inviting trophy hunters on their land. But these did not reduce their losses.

After seeing this cycle repeat every year, the family tried another approach. They created protective corrals for pregnant cows and young calves. Around four months of age, the calves would begin grazing freely with their mothers on the range. Livestock losses dropped to just two or three every year.

A Sanctuary for Wildlife

During 1992, the Hanssens converted their 15,000 acre cattle ranch into a conservation haven that would become Okonjima Nature Reserve. By 2000, they completed an enclosed 11,000 acre nature sanctuary for rehabilitating injured and orphaned carnivores. By 2010, Okonjima Nature Reserve was enlarged to 55,000 acres—that’s 85 square miles!

For many years, AfriCat was best known for running the largest cheetah and leopard rescue and release program in the world. Its groundbreaking work on Okonjima Reserve showed that rehabilitated cheetahs can adapt to different environments and learn how to survive in the wild.

Just as animals must adapt, AfriCat has also adapted. As higher-level carnivores like leopards and brown hyaenas increased on Okonjima Reserve, AfriCat observed that released cheetahs had a hard time competing. This is largely due to the reserve being enclosed, which is done to protect neighboring farms. Fences keep cheetahs from leaving the reserve, so each time a cheetah was added to the reserve, the territory of other animals was affected. In 2018, AfriCat came to the difficult conclusion that Okonjima Nature Reserve was too small for releasing additional cheetahs. It still serves as home to previously released cats and their offspring.

AfriCat Today

Okonjima Nature Reserve and the AfriCat Carnivore Care Centre continue to provide refuge to cats who were already a part of the rehabilitation program prior to 2019. Scientists conduct research to learn more about the behavior of carnivores in a closed reserve. This information is used to improve the management of similar reserves throughout Africa.

In addition, AfriCat educates Namibians about living in harmony with predators. It also works to find new ways to reduce farm losses while respecting the role of predators in Namibia’s ecosystem.

Veterinary team checks up on a cheetah outdoors at AfriCat wildlife rehabilitation program at okonjima nature reserve
Three Cheetahs walk along a path at AfriCat wildlife rehabilitation program at okonjima nature reserve
Scientist to checks camera traps at AfriCat wildlife rehabilitation program at okonjima nature reserve
People look at a free-roaming cheetah at AfriCat wildlife rehabilitation program at okonjima nature reserve
Smiling children look at educational materials about large cats at AfriCat wildlife rehabilitation program at okonjima nature reserve
sedated leopard about to be released as part of AfriCat wildlife rehabilitation program at okonjima nature reserve

AfriCat monitors and provides veterinary care to animals such as brown hyenas, cheetahs, and leopards at Okonjima Nature Reserve and the AfriCat Carnivore Care Centre, and educates schoolchildren about large carnivores at its Environmental Education Centre. Photos courtesy of AfriCat.

The AfriCat Carnivore Care Centre at Okonjima

AfriCat’s Carnivore Care Centre is a sanctuary for a small number of cheetahs, leopards, and lions that cannot live in the wild.

Many of these cats were kept as pets or raised by humans after their mothers were shot or poisoned by farmers. While hand-raised carnivores maintain their hunting instinct, they cannot be released into unprotected areas because they have lost their natural fear of people.

The cats at the Carnivore Care Centre serve as species ambassadors when people visit Okonjima. There is no human-animal direct contact during visits to the center, as one of the guiding principles of AfriCat is “we only admire them from afar.” Visitors come from all over the world, but are mainly scholars and Namibian schoolchildren that spend time at AfriCat’s Environmental Education Centre. Seeing cheetahs and other predators up close, in a safe environment, is a powerful experience.

close up of cheetah at AfriCat wildlife rehabilitation program at okonjima nature reserve

Photo courtesy of AfriCat.

Visiting and Supporting AfriCat

If you’d like to help AfriCat, you can make a general donation or sponsor a cheetah, lion, leopard, or brown hyena. You’ll receive an adoption certificate, photo, and regular updates about your sponsored animal. Sponsorships make great gifts for the animal lovers in your life.

AfriCat receives most of its funds through visits to its headquarters and Okonjima Nature Reserve, so make it a must-see when you visit Namibia. Whether you are on a self-drive safari or traveling with a guide, you can stop by for a day visit to the Carnivore Care Centre, or stay for a few nights at the reserve’s onsite lodgings for the full experience. Track leopards, rhinos, or pangolins; view cheetahs up close at the Carnivore Care Centre; and take nighttime drives to view nocturnal animals such as caracals, honey badgers, and Cape porcupines. Walking trails offer excellent opportunities for bird watching—over 200 bird species have been identified here.

Contact Ujuzi to plan your trip!

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