We left the collared leopard we had been following and rounded the corner to be confronted with clawing and snarling – a territorial dispute between cheetahs was underway.
We hopped out of our vehicle and calmly approached the four spotted cats on foot – although they were undoubtedly aware of our presence, they wouldn’t even grant us a glance in our direction. They slunk past, just metres from our camera lenses, to carry on their show of dominance while a lone oryx looked on – also suitably ignored.
We were enjoying an overnight pitstop on the way to Etosha at Okonjima Game Reserve, which is home to the AfriCat Foundation. AfriCat focuses on the conservation of Namibia’s large carnivores while providing support for communities who live alongside these animals.
These particular cheetahs are siblings that were released onto the reserve in 2010, and they were simply showing a newcomer who’s boss. The cheetahs at AfriCat normally come from farmlands where they were found orphaned or injured, and their conditioning to captivity makes these animals unsuitable for release on farmland. So they are fitted with radio-collars before their release into Okonjima’s nature reserve, meaning that the AfriCat researchers can keep tabs on them, and a cheetah sighting can be virtually guaranteed for guests. The cats are also very accustomed to human presence so can be approached on foot very easily and safely.
At the AfriCat Carnivore Care and Information Centre the cats that are still dependant on humans for survival are kept in drive-through enclosures and act as species ambassadors for children and adults to learn about big cats and experience them up close, but in as natural an environment as possible. This gives tourists a chance to see large cats – without the need for cages, human interaction, breeding and all the detrimental consequences linked to these activities.
All in all, this is what a big cat sanctuary should be….