A short stay at the Africat Foundation on the Okonjima Nature Reserve in Namibia lets us capture the big cats and turns out to be an educational experience like no other.
Namibia, the second least populated country in the world, is full of wilderness and desert. So its a place where animals roam free with countless opportunities for tourists to see varied wildlife on safari. Be that as it may it is not all open space.
The nature reserves that exist in Namibia provide an alternative to taking your chances of spotting wildlife in the open. These reserves significantly increase your likelihood of wildlife sightings, particularly the elusive predators, and Namibia is no different. However, the Okonjima Nature Reserve is just a bit special. Not least as it is home to the world renowned Africat Foundation.
The Okonjima Nature Reserve
Based close to the town of Okonjima, the Reserve is an extensive area of former farm land, measuring 22,000 hectares. It rests amongst the Omboroko mountains around 50kms south of the village of Otjiwarongo surrounded by farmland.
Over the past 20 years the farm owners, the Hanssen family, have created the Reserve by replacing the original cattle farm with grasslands and abundant wildlife. As a result the land is returning to its original state.
Concerned about the number of their livestock being lost to predators, the Hansson family made changes that would allow farming and wildlife to live together in harmony.
The Hanssons started with changes to their traditional style of farming livestock. They built a kraal, an enclosure to protect their livestock at night. During the day the cattle were released to graze or brought back to the farm. The impact was to significantly reduce the number of livestock lost to predators.
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Then in 1986 the family started to take advantage of their location and natural habitat by offering bird watching excursions on the farm. Following this, in 1991, when at an auction, they saw a cheetah being kept in a cage. Disturbed by the conditions it was being kept in they bought it and cared for it on their farmland.
Together these events laid the foundations for what Okonjima is today and began the evolution away from farming. Their commitment towards tourism and the preservation, support and rehabilitation of predators had begun. Of course, the rest, as they say, is history.
The Africat Foundation
A short time later they founded the Africat Foundation, a not for profit organisation dedicated to the conservation of Africa’s large carnivores. Its pioneering work in the rescue and release of big cats that were injured or orphaned has now earned it numerous international ecological and ecotourism awards.
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Since its foundation Africat has been successful at Okonjima in releasing more than 85% of animals in its care back into the wild. However, Africat remains home to some orphaned, injured and rehabilitated large carnivores. These include predators that would be unable to adjust and survive in the wild. Nonetheless the family still continue to work to return the land to its natural state. They do so for the purpose of ensuring those animals that remain can do so in safety from farmers and other predators.
Education is a key part of Africat’s mission. To promote this they work alongside the farming communities attempting to alleviate the livestock losses caused by predators. At Okonjima, Africat also play an important role in educating children and young adults. As a result tens of thousands of youngsters have benefited from its on site education centre.
Your visit to the Africat Foundation is a wonderful learning experience. During your time there you have the opportunity to observe the animals in their natural surroundings and to witness the rehabilitation efforts to return them to the wild. Because it is a not for profit organisation, a significant amount of the money you spend makes its way back into their conservation programmes.
The Okonjima Experience
As a day visitor you can observe the Foundation’s work and learn more about African big cats and their plight for survival.
Your visit to AfriCat’s Day Centre includes a guided drive to the Africat Carnivore Care and Information Centre. At this point you’ll learn more about the animals. You may also be able to see around the clinic facilities that they have available. However, The highlight of your visit is undoubtedly the leopard and cheetah enclosures. Here you really do get superb opportunities to see the animals interact. They even have a purpose built hide desgned to let you photograph leopards.
Your day visit tour takes around a couple of hours and, unless by special arrangement, these depart daily at 11.00 and 13.00. Also, you need to be aware that safety is extremely important to the Foundation and there is no direct contact with the animals. You will, however, still be asked to sign an indemnity form. Given the nature of the activity child participation is for those over 3 only.
If you are planning on staying longer then the Africat Foundation at Okonjima offers other activities, including a nocturnal game drive. Check them out at https://okonjima.com/the-okonjima-experience/
Accommodation at Okonjima
I you want to stay overnight there are a variety of accommodations at Okonjima. These range from luxury chalets with no barriers between wildlife and guests to more basic camp sites using your own equipment. You can check the different types of accommodation, as well as availability, by visiting https://okonjima.com
We stayed at the campsite. In our time in Namibia it was one of the best we experienced. You get a real back to nature experience but still with all the facilities you need. It really does epitomize the Namibian Safari experience.
Whatever accommodation you choose the Foundation claim it will be a Namibian safari experience to remember. It is hard to disagree.
Getting to the Africat Foundation at the Okonjima Nature Reserve will take you a 2 to 3 hour drive from Windhoek and about the same from Anderson’s Gate at the south east entrance to Etosha National Park. When you are getting close you’ll find signs for the nature reserve. It is situated approximately 10kms west from the main B1 road around 35kms south of the town.
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If you are travelling between Windhoek to Etosha National Park it is well worth considering splitting the journey with a stop over at the Africat Foundation on the Okonjima Nature Reserve.
Looking for More?
Namibia is a wonderful country and tourism is really only starting to develop to take advantage of all that it has to offer. If you are looking for some further reading then below you’ll find more of our articles on Namibia. For related reading check out the Tag links as well at the bottom of the page.
More Reading on Namibia
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