VISIT TO AFRICAT 2018
Carey and Janet Widdows from AfriCat UK recently came back from an updating visit to the AfriCat Foundation in Namibia. The AfriCat /Okonjima team pulled out all the stops to ensure we saw it all, learnt a lot and got a perspective on the goals for the future.
The initial night in Bush Camp provided a chance to experience the camp as many other guests do. The evening drive, having flown in that morning, was spent in the company of leopards. Rohan, our guide, expertly explained what might happen to reassure and prepare us for a lovely close encounter of Mawenzi (from the safety of the vehicle). It was great to then catch up with Electra and her latest now nearly fully grown cub. Being keen we booked to go to the night hide an option from Bush Camp and there saw wonderful porcupines, a spotted genet and two brown Hyaena - a first for us at Okonjima. The next morning up early we had a great drive picking up a variety of birds and animals to find Mundi resting in the morning sunshine, lovely. On the way we chanced one of the other leopards out exploring. Since it was a lucky day we then come across Harley finding a shady place to rest! Just demonstrating how a stay at Okonjima can be quite magical.
After a few days in Etosha National Park we headed up to the community owned lodge, in the Hobatere Conservation Concession, where AfriCat's northern project is based to spend time with Tammy and catch up with the work going on with the lions and communities. During an afternoon and evening drive we found the pride of lions and cubs being monitored by the project including the big male Sores, who keeps himself busy ‘looking after’ the Hobatere lodge and Etosha roadside prides. Indeed early one morning we found him on his way to visit the three lionesses we had spent two nights trying to collar! The ‘roadside pride’ had killed a Zebra near the campsite with a good proportion of the carcass remaining and in an accessible location it presented a good chance to dart one of the lionesses.
The AfriCat veterinarian, Dr Diethardt Rodenwoldt with Tammy and Scott (the local AfriCat lion guard who had found the kill) all went in one vehicle to sit by the kill and await the arrival of the lionesses while we sat at a lookout point with night sight glasses trained on the waterhole where the lionesses were resting up. We got quite excited when at 3am they moved off in the direction of the kill only to circulate back to have a drink from a bird bath in the campsite, where the cars were parked! No collar that night. We tried again the next night but sadly with a similar result. When budgeting to collar a lion the team reckon it may take three or more attempts. The drugs alone per night cost about N$1500 as they are mixed and drawn up ready in the darts so are not reusable.
Carey and Scott had fun with the collar and it was great to see the car bought by AfriCat UK being put to such good use.
After a night with minimal sleep we drove up to see the progress on the building of the Onguta School which has been funded by money raised from kind donations in UK and Europe. Very sadly we found the building work halted but due to re-start shortly. The building was designed by a renowned architect and its construction is under the direction of a local builder with the work being carried out by members of the community. However some technical problem arose with the construction of the walls so the work had to stop until a solution found.
The new plans are ready and work was due to start again. It is hoped that two of the four planned classrooms can be completed for the start of the new academic year. The next phase includes the kitchen, community space and facilities block.
When we arrived we found the school had closed for the day. The government had not been able to provide food for the children, something they do in rural areas, so they were being sent home early. We did find one of the two current teachers and were able to hand over some books and equipment donated by supporters in the UK. This is his family.
There are some exciting plans for the future that require considerable funding which include the purchase of some land, a very complex, tricky, long winded process in Namibia which will enable AfriCat North to have a permanent long term base. More details to follow once the land is secured.
Our last stop was three nights back at AfriCat HQ based in the Okonjima Nature Reserve and hearing about their developments and plans for the future. With the emphasis on rehabilitation and research at Okonjima we were delighted to spend time with the ‘research team’. Jenny with her leopards; Sarah and the brown hyaena’s; Kelsey with the pangolins and Louis now trained to dart as AfriCat's para-vet - after an intense course that was held in Namibia.
It was very good to hear the difference the cars AfriCat UK had helped to buy are making enabling the teams to work independently thus making better use of time and resource.
After an evening drive visiting old haunts of our first visit to the leopard hide 20 years ago we came across one of Tyson’s (our very first leopard at Okonjima) descendants Ishara. She had a kill up a tree, is pregnant and we saw her again the next morning with the kill much depleted but still safe up the tree.
That evening we joined Kelsey on her nightly patrol of the pangolin, the team have managed to find and collar. In the short time that Kelsey has been following the pangolin she has noticed that the time they come out of their burrows at night seems to vary with temperature. Walking in the bush in the dark is an interesting experience, which scratches the norm! We found two pangolins that night, one having a nap and another feeding.
AfriCat is part of a wider team offering new homes to rescued pangolin which is brilliant. Pangolins are now on the ‘red list’ as highly endangered due to a massive increase in poaching for their scales and meat. Seeing a pangolin in the wild is a very rare occurrence and most experienced guides are lucky if they see one or two in a life time of guiding. A very special treat for anyone! It’s hoped the research will help with the long term conservation of pangolin.
The next morning we visited Dune who was rescued from the sand dunes close to Swakopmund as a cub and now starting her rehabilitation back into the wild. She is currently being regularly monitored by the team. She has yet to attempt to hunt and is currently exploring the reserve. The team ensure she is given some food/water to keep her going but know that hunger can help to drive the natural instincts. Let us hope she gets the hang of things and enjoys her new found freedom.
On another evening we helped Sarah and Louis in the successful darting and GPS collaring of a brown hyaena called ‘Floppy’ (OHB 03) as the collar was not working well. The research project, lead by AfriCat's Dr Sarah Edwards has now collared 9 brown hyaena and her findings reveal some interesting facts about this little researched nocturnal mammal. It was fascinating to see the process ‘for real’, observe the care taken, the teamwork and to be able to see this very special animal close up. Our first sighting of a brown hyaena at Okonjima was on this visit. The collaring is done at night as this is when the animals are active so it is important to keep checking around. Other hyaenas were, for example, quite interested in what was happening! Having sat up for two unsuccessful lion collaring attempts it was very nice to be part of the successful collaring of Floppy.
On our last morning we were very fortunate to get taken to see the white rhino that are now in the reserve, donated during the drought. For protection the rhino have ‘guards’ who check them each day due to the threat of poaching. You can occasionally get a sight of them when on a drive within the reserve. Plans were being discussed to see if they can safely be incorporated into the activities offered at Okonjima without increasing the risk to their or other people’s lives.
Overall for us a quite wonderful visit and a very long list of things to do and funds for us to raise back in the UK with thanks to all at Hobatere, Okonjima and AfriCat for making our visit so special. Janet and Carey