A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend some time with three of Namibia’s most impressive carnivores. Lions, leopards and cheetahs are all truly powerful and inspiring creatures, and yet, as with most things in nature they are in fact part of a very fragile system that can be broken very easily. As such there are many different organisations from all around the world that have made it their goal to ensure the survival of these majestic creatures in their natural habitats.
Human/animal conflicts are one of the major sources of problems for these big cats. Farmers often kill these predators because they fear a loss of livestock and want to ensure their farms are safe from threats. Often this means that adult female cats are killed while on the hunt for food for their cubs.
A Lioness roars inside her enclosure at N/a’an ku sê.
When a mother is killed her cubs are left alone and helpless in the harsh wilderness of Namibia. Sometimes the predator is caught, (usually cheetahs are captured as lions and leopards are simply too big for most people to handle with any success) and people have been known to try and tame them for recreational or security purposes.
It is almost impossible for a non-professional conservationist to look after one of these big cats and as a result many abandoned cubs, and a few mature cats, die each year due to malnutrition or sickness.
Hungry hungry leopard- Big cats are incredibly difficult to keep fed and as such should
never be adopted by untrained people.
Conservation and rehabilitation
This is where an organisation like the N/a'an ku sê Foundation comes in to play. One of the many conservation goals of this organisation is to try and mediate the conflicts between humans and large predators.
From intensive work with farmers in the surroundings areas, to large carnivore tracking and monitoring, the conservationists at N/a’an ku sê are attempting to educate and help local people and farming communities on how best to live with Namibia’s big cats.
N/a’an ku sê is primarily concerned with two types of big cat conservation. First and foremost they are involved with tracking and monitoring of wild predators in the surrounding areas.
Left to right: An old RF tracking collar, a motion detecting camera, a GPS transponder
The tracking collars, GPS transponders and motion activated cameras are all used to map out the movements of big cats in order to give us more information on the habbits of these elusive creatures.
The more information organisations like this have the more likely it is that we as a species will better understand these animals and thus be able to live more harmoniously with them.
Speaking to Stuart at N/a’an ku sê it is easy to see the passion that the people who work there have for the animals they are protecting. The excitement and pride that the whole team feels when speaking of the wild Cheetah and her new litter of cubs was truly heart warming.
Stuart showing us exactly where a wild cheetah is nesting with her litter of cubs.
Why organisations like this are needed
Sometimes, unfortunately, when humans and big cats encroach on one another’s space things go wrong. This leads to situations were these big cats can be held in captivity by untrained well-meaning people or selfish exploitative people.
Either way, if a wild animal, particularly a predator, is held in captivity it often becomes impossible to rehabilitate it for re-release into the wild. These animals cannot be rehabilitated and used to be sent off to zoos or put down if no organization was willing to take them in.
By taking in unrehabilitatable leopards, lions and cheetahs N/a’an ku sê gives these animals a chance at a peaceful life in environments that are very similar to the habitats found in the wild.
A cheetah surveys its surrounds at N/a’an ku sê
All the money that is made from these animals in captivity is put straight back into conservation efforts of these self-same animals. Thus, not only do these once doomed captured animals have the opportunity to live out their lives but in doing so they are helping their entire species to survive through the money that is spent by tourists visiting N/a’an ku sê.
Hanging out with cheetahs
When I was at N/a’an ku sê I was lucky enough to be given an intimate tour of the premises. It started with a visit to the cheetah enclosure which three mature cheetahs now call home. Cheetahs are listed as endangered by CITES and thus the chance to spend some time, up close with them was truly special. I just had no idea how up-close it would be!
Aisha the cheetah with two young lads.
These three cats, named Aiko, Kiki and Aisha cannot be released into the wild as they had had too much contact with humans before being brought to N/a’an ku sê. This familiarity with humans would be problematic if they were released in the wild as they may try to interact with humans with disastrous results.
Aiko and Kiki about to be fed.
The remarkable tale of Lucky the cheetah
Not all the cheetahs at N/a’an ku sê are completely tame though and on the other side of the farm there is a tale unfolding that wouldn’t be out of place in an uplifting Disney film.
Lucky the cheetah was tied up by a farmer trying to tame her. Sadly, her leg became infected where the shackles were attached. When conservationists caught wind of her dire situation they managed to save her from a slow and certain death.
Unfortunately Lucky had to have one of her hind legs amputated as a result of infection. The happy ending here though is that Lucky now acts as a surrogate mother for 5 cubs at N/a’an ku sê.
Lucky the three-legged surrogate mother.
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)
Lucky now teaches these young cheetahs how to hunt and how to be independent. As a result N/a’an ku sê can now receive cheetah cubs and prepare them for a life in the wild. This kind of holistic rehabilitation is just not possible if a cheetah is raised solely by humans.
N/a’an ku sê has so far been a success story and you can take part in that story if you want to. They offer volunteer programs or you can donate to the foundation. The work they do is not limited to cheetahs and there are several programs that aim to help foster a mutually beneficial relationship between animals and humans in Namibia.
N/a’an ku sê is situated only 26km outside Windhoek just off the B6.
A happy cheetah...
...is a happy cheetah!
Other conservation organisations
For those interested in supporting other conservation projects around Namibia, visit the Cheetah Conservation Fund, Africat or Desert Lion Conservation and see if you can help out these noble creatures!
Emeritta Lillo is on the road with the #GoBigNamibia tour. Each day she'll be sharing their adventures, so stay tuned for some handy travel tips and inspiration. Follow the team on Twitter @NamibiaHorizons #GoBigNamibia and Facebook for a chance to win
Today our Go Big van rolled out of Windhoek and headed straight for the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) 44km from Otjiwarongo. CCF has been working in Namibia for over 25 years to protect cheetahs in Namibia, as a result of their work (and others) Namibia has the largest population of free-roaming cheetahs in the world.
Sunday lunch for the cheetahs is at 12, so soon after we arrived we helped the CCF staff prepare for the feeding by taking the food into their pens - a scrumptuous lunch of donkey ribs and supplements (the white powder). After that we visited the Kraal to see the CCF goats and then feasted on their delicious cheese for lunch.
We also saw some of the Anatolian Shepherd dogs from the CCF Livestock Guarding Dog program. The dogs protect farmer's livestock from cheetahs, which reduces the human wildlife conflict and ultimately saves more cheetahs - what a brilliant idea.
We said goodbye to the cheetahs, dogs and goats, and headed back towards Otjiwarongo where we met Ees who has just landed from Munich. The Go Big Van now has some real NamFlava on board!
Slicing and dicing - Laurel and I get our hands dirty
Donkey ribs, anyone?
Hanging out with the goats
David (our tour guide) with our new Go Big companion Ees
Read what the rest of our Go Big team had to say about the Big Cats:
Laurel Robins on Monkeys & Mountains
Follow Emeritta and her fellow adventurers on their #GoBigNamibia tour
Ever dream of getting away from it all and truly immersing yourself in another culture, a conservation effort or simply taking the time to give back?
Namibia offers a host of different volunteer programs focused on wildlife conservation, health care, the environment and teaching. Most volunteers commit to a longer time to really get the most out of it. But there are shorter programs available for those of you who are a little hard pressed for time.
Here are just some of the organizations that offer volunteering in Namibia.
The Cheetah Conservation Fund
The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) offers programs to volunteers as working guests, interns and zookeepers. Volunteers cover the costs of training, accommodation and meals. Volunteers and student interns participate in a variety of general tasks and operations of the program, in addition to a focus area. Your focus area will depend on your background, areas of interest and length of stay at CCF. The best qualification for our program is a willingness to help out wherever needed.
For more information click here
N/a’an ku sê
Photo from naankuse.com
N/a’an ku sê offers wildlife conservation and medical volunteer programs. Wildlife Sanctuary Volunteers provide an important resource in caring for and feeding the animals at the sanctuary. Research Volunteers participate in activities such as tracking leopards and cheetahs, as well as assisting the estate with development. Volunteers will also provide hands on support at the Life Line Clinic providing health care for the San Bushmen community.
For more information click here
Photo from elonga-internship.com
Elonga puts you in touch with local NGO’s, international and (non)governmental organisations as well as to media and other private enterprises and education institutes. Depending on your interests and abilities you can work, for example, at local schools, kindergartens, orphanages, hospitals, clinics, media companies, universities, ngo’s, tourism organisations or take part in engineering and environment projects. To make such an internship or voluntary job possible we offer pleasant and comfortable accomodation in Windhoek, on walking distance from the city centre. Besides, we have 30 years of experience in Namibia, so we can provide you with advice on getting around in Namibia and give you an inside view on the beautiful culture and nature of Namibia; the land of the endless horizons!
For more information click here
Penduka Women Project
Photo from www.penduka.com
Penduka is a non-governmental development organisation working with women in Namibia to improve their social status and help them support their families and improve their communities. Based in Katutura township in Windhoek, Penduka women make beautiful products - from crafting glass beads to embroidering fabric with the stories of their lives. Every year Penduka offers a limited amount of students a placement, either with product design or more general business skills. If you are interested, contact Kauna at Penduka.
For more information click here
The Elephant Human Relations Aid
The Elephant Human Relations Aid (EHRA) runs an elephant conservation and volunteer project that aims to reduce elephant-human conflict in the southern Kunene region of Namibia. Volunteers construct protection walls around water points and join the EHRA trackers on weeklong elephant patrols. It's a chance to make a real difference to the conservation of Namibia's desert elephants and have an experience you will never forget.
For more information click here
Photo from harnas.com
Volunteers at Harnas participate in daily activities such as food preparation, feeding, caretaking, fence patrol, research on rehabilitating animals and animal walks. Harnas gives volunteers the opportunity to make a difference in the animals’ lives, ideally to live a life free of human disturbance. The programmes run for a minimum of two weeks and a maximum of three months. If you are older than 40 or just seeking a more luxurious and relaxed experience, you can join the Harnas Exclusive VolunTourist project which runs for two weeks at a time.
For more information click here
Photo courtesy of Travel News Namibia / Venture Publications
Biosphere Expeditions is an international non-profit wildlife volunteer organisation, founded in 1999, that runs conservation expeditions (conservation holidays) for environmental volunteers all across the globe. They offer a 2 week volunteer programme in Namibia, safeguarding big cats, elephants and other species of the African savannah. This expedition will take you to the beautiful Khomas Hochland (highlands) in central Namibia to conduct a survey of elephants and African cats (mainly leopard, but also cheetah and caracal) and their interrelationship with humans and prey animals (such as giraffe, eland, kudu, zebras, etc.).
For more information click here
Some useful information and links
- These are just some of the great opportunities to volunteer in Namibia. To find more, ask a travel specialist
- Once you've decided that you're going to volunteer in Namibia, take a look at this handy travel planning check list to get you started
- Want to find out more about Namibia before you make the decision? Read about our culture, wildlife and geography on our website.
- Africa volunteer work is a once in a lifetime opportunity to help AND explore. Find out about what else you can do in Namibia by downloading one of our travel planning guides here
December 4th marks the second International Cheetah Day. As you know, we in Namibia are passionate about these graceful big cats, aprobably something to do with having the largest population of cheetahs in the world - around 2,500, out of a total population of 10,000!
This is partly thanks to our fabulous big cat conservation organisations such as AfriCat, N/a’an ku sê, and the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF). CCF's Founder and Executive Director, Dr. Laurie Marker says of this day:
“We stand at a moment where this amazing animal could disappear in less than 20 years if we don’t do anything to stop it. International Cheetah Day serves to remind us that the cheetah, like all wildlife, is a treasure of our planet. Wildlife enhances our landscapes and can support livelihoods when utilized in a sustainable manner. When a species becomes extinct, everyone loses.”
Unfortunately, while many people have come together to try and protect the cheetah, the greatest threat to this animal's survival still comes from humans. Farmers may kill cheetahs because they believe they pose a threat to their livestock, while others capture cheetahs to be sold as illegal pets.
One of CCF's creative solutions involved breeding livestock-guarding dogs for farmers. The dogs' presence can reduce predation rates by 80 percent. CCF has also worked tirelessly with a network of individuals and organizations to combat the illegal pet trade.
How to support International Cheetah Day:
Donations to support CCF’s work are always welcome - why not start a funraising activity with your friends, kids or local school? Visit www.cheetah.org to find out more.
Spread the word! Conservation starts with knowledge - download an excellent cheetah information pack and educational aide.
If you are in the US, the Elephant Bar restaurant chain, with 46 locations across the country, will donate 20% of participating sales to CCF on December 4th, 2012. Download a flyer here.
Or... be a hands-on conservationist! Come to Namibia, and spend time volunteering at one of our fabulous wildlife conservation organisations!
Remember our first campaign, Conservation Destination? Where we followed the exploits of Dara the Damara Tern, Chase the Cheetah, Roger the Rhino and Holden the Golden Mole, just a few of the endangered (but awesome!) species in Namibia? Well, Rob Sambrook from Vancouver Canada was the lucky winner of our grand prize and he and his wife Natasha recently spent ten days exploring Namibia's conservation successes!
Here's what they had to say about their trip, along with some of Rob's incredible photographs:
We were absolutely thrilled to win this trip to Namibia, courtesy of the Namibia Tourist Board. Even so, the experience exceeded our expectations. The itinerary, with our excellent local guide Perez, included two days at the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), just outside Otjiwarongo, and a few hours North of Windhoek. Here, Dr Laurie Marker and a committed group of volunteers and staff run a program which seeks to rehabilitate and release captured or orphaned cheetahs back into the wild; one of the biggest challenges being to find suitable habitat to do this. Therefore there is a lot of outreach work with landowners, as well as the care of the cheetahs themselves. Dr Marker and all the staff made us feel very welcome, and we had a full programme of activities, including feeding the cheetahs, attending their exercise sessions, visiting the genetics lab, and a couple of sundowner drives, where we saw oryx, warthog, hartebeest, baboons, mongoose, numerous birds and a very inquisitive honey badger.
From CCF we drove north to Etosha National Park. It was the end of the dry season, so it was a great time for wildlife spotting, as the animals were drawn closer to the watering holes. We saw many giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, impala, oryx (gembsbok) and springbok, as well as the small and elusive dik-dik and steenbok. We were fortunate to see a leopard on two occasions, as well as herds of elephants cooling off in a watering holes, and on day two, a solitary black rhinoceros doing the same. Numerous hyenas and jackals were on the prowl, and we also watched hyenas, jackals, marabou stork and vultures squabbling over a recent kill.
Driving west through the park on the third and final day, we saw lions on two occasions, including a pride of about dozen, including five cubs. We watched them for about an hour as they played right on the edge of the shimmering white Etosha pan - wildebeest, zebra and ostrich all watching cautiously.
Accommodation was two nights at Mushara Bush Camp, a luxury camp with permanent, spacious, ensuite canvas tents, and one night at the similarly appointed Andersson's Camp. Here, we sat on the terrace and watched and photographed black rhino and giraffe at the floodlit watering hole while a thunderstorm provided a dramatic backdrop.
From Andersson's Camp we drop to Swakopmund, on the Atlantic coast, where we relaxed for the afternoon, and photographed the dramatic sand dunes, which come right up to the edge of town. The following morning consisted of a sandboarding and sand-tobogganing excursion to the dunes. Hard work, but a lot of fun. A spot of shopping, and selection of great seafood, then we were off south-east towards the Namib desert.
The last two nights were spent at the Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust, which offers programs for school children in environmental education, energy and water conservation, as well as desert ecology. We were fortunate to be there at the same time as a school group of around 40 girls and boys, and participated in a number of their activities, including dune walks, scorpion hunting, setting traps for night-active creatures and watching the beautifully clear night sky. We also had a sundowner drive, where we were fortunate to see a pair of wary bat-eared foxes, and to watch the sun setting over the brilliant red dunes.
Overall impressions of Namibia were that it is a safe and welcoming country with a harsh, but spectacularly beautiful natural heritage. It has good infrastructure, with range of accommodation for all budgets. We feel that we have only just scratched the surface, and would certainly like to go back, and explore some more.
Thanks for sharing your travel tales, Rob and Natasha! We're sure you've inspired our readers. We hope you can come back and explore someday soon too!
My name's Chase. I'm a fast-talking fast cat who likes fast stuff: fast cars, fast planes, and fast food...
... not that much of my food is faster than me. I'm sleek, stealthy and built for speed, reaching top speeds of 110 km/hr.
When not hunting on the savannah, I spend most of my time in Otjiwarongo lounging with my coalition - a pack of chill cheetahs.
Though I like to play the role of gentleman, I have been known to love you then leave you - off to chase my newest catch.
Read more about Chase.
The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) is based in the heart of cheetah country, near Otjiwarongo, within the Waterberg Conservancy. CCF is dedicated to the conservation of wild cheetahs by employing a variety of integrated approaches in species conservation strategies. These strategies include teaching human/wildlife conflict resolution; livestock and wildlife management; the predator’s role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem; education and awareness; and biological research.
Namibia prides itself on being the "Cheetah Capital of the World", with over 3,000 individuals living in the north-central and western areas of the country. As 95 percent of Namibia’s cheetah population lives on the same lands as livestock farmers, conflict between the two is very likely to occur.
Since CCF’s founding in 1990, the organization has had great success working with farmers who live with cheetahs on their land. This has led to two thirds of over 800 cheetahs CCF has worked with being released back into the wild. But there are always orphaned and injured cheetahs unable to make it into the wild, and they stay in a large, peaceful sanctuary at CCF. These cheetahs are part of ongoing research to better understand cheetah biology, physiology and behavior.
Dr. Laurie Marker, American founder and executive director of CCF, described Namibia as the country she identifies with most. “I’m much more Namibian than American. I speak American English, but my heart and soul and investment is in Namibia, and I believe that it is a country that can show the world a lot about natural resource management and living with predators.” Dr Marker is committed to sharing this message internationally, and the world not only listens, it rewards her for her dedication to cheetah conservation.