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Spending Time with Namibia's Big Cats

  
  

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.

Conservation, namibia tourism, namibia, lion, cheetah, large carnivores, namibia travel, adventure travel, adventure africa

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.

Conservation, namibia tourism, namibia, lion, cheetah, large carnivores, namibia travel, adventure travel, adventure africa

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.

Conservation, namibia tourism, namibia, lion, cheetah, large carnivores, namibia travel, adventure travel, adventure africa

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.

describe the image

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.

Conservation, namibia tourism, namibia, lion, cheetah, large carnivores, namibia travel, adventure travel, adventure africa

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!

Conservation, namibia tourism, namibia, lion, cheetah, large carnivores, namibia travel, adventure travel, adventure africa

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.

Conservation, namibia tourism, namibia, lion, cheetah, large carnivores, namibia travel, adventure travel, adventure africa

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.

Conservation, namibia tourism, namibia, lion, cheetah, large carnivores, namibia travel, adventure travel, adventure africaLucky 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.

Get involved!

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.

Conservation, namibia tourism, namibia, lion, cheetah, large carnivores, namibia travel, adventure travel, adventure africa

A happy cheetah...

Conservation, namibia tourism, namibia, cheetah, large carnivores, namibia travel, adventure travel, adventure africa

...is a happy cheetah!

Other conservation organisations

For those interested in supporting other conservation projects around Namibia, visit the Cheetah Conservation FundAfricat or Desert Lion Conservation and see if you can help out these noble creatures!

Five Things to do in Downtown Swakopmund

  
  

Swakopmund is known as Namibia's adventure tourism capital - but in between surfing down sand dunes, kayaking with seals and quad biking across the coastal desert, it's worth taking a day to explore some of the town's more urban pleasures. Here's five of our favourite:

1. National Marine Aquarium of Namibia

National Aquarium of Namibia, Swakopmund

Main tank at the aquarium, where sharks swim above your head

The newly-renovated attraction showcases the marine species that thrive in the South Atlantic's chilly Benguela Current. The centrepiece is a large aquarium filled with fish and sharks, and the walk-through tunnel that allows visitors to get scarily close to these fearsome creatures.

Colourful panels give information about Namibia's fishing industry and local species such as Cape fur seals. There is a tank containing rays, and at 3pm each day the fish are fed. Try and visit on a Tuesday, Saturday or Sunday - and you'll see divers in the large aquarium feeding the sharks by hand!

  • Open: Tuesday - Sunday, 10am - 4pm

  • Closed: Mondays, Christmas day and New Year's day

  • Feeding: Daily at 3pm

  • Feeding by divers: Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays

2. Living Desert Snake Park

Though feared by many, snakes are actually surprisingly hard to spot in Namibia. So it'll be a relief for serpent fans to know that many of Namibia's native species can be seen - and photographed - in Swakopmund, at the Living Desert Snake Park. This compact reptile house has aquariums containing numerous venomous and non-venomous snakes, as well as geckos, scorpions, and even a couple of huge monitor lizards. Stuart Hebbard, who founded the Snake Park almost two decades ago, is happy to chat about the various species he cares for, and visitors can see the snakes being fed each Saturday.

Hebbard hopes to move the Snake Park to a new, larger location this year, including a walk-in cage allowing guests to get up close to the safer species! Watch this space for more information.

Swakopmund Snake Park

Western diamond-backed rattlesnake at Swakopmund's Living Desert Snake Park

  • Open: Daily from 9am-5pm

3. Swakopmund Museum

This museum, founded in 1951, has some of the most in-depth exhibits about Namibia's flora, fauna, geology, archaeology culture and modern history - all under one roof. The wildlife room exhibits stuffed specied which are almost impossible to see on safari - such as the aardvark and golden mole. Fossils and meteorites are on show in the geology department,and Namibia's many diverse ecosystems are explained in the botanical department.

Ancient culture is explored in the archaeology room, with well-preserved pots and centuries-old jewellery. Contrast this with the exhibits exploring Namibia's contemporary culture - with body decorations, weaving and clothing from the Himba, San and other communities.

Cultural exhibit at Swakopmund Museum

Himba cosmetic boxes on display at Swakopmund Museum

  • Open: Daily from 10am-5pm

  • Entry: Adults: N$ 25, Students N$20, Children (aged 6-15) N$10

4. Karakulia Weavers

Take a trip to this workshop on the outskirts of town to see the wool of the karakul sheep being spun, dyed and woven into intricately patterned wall hangings and rugs. The talent of the weavers is astounding - as they create patterned abstracts resembling Namibia's dunes, African rock art designs or wildlife scenes on the huge hand-operated looms.

The workshop was founded in 1979, and it has now developed an international reputation. The craftspeople can make custom designs to order, and if you don't have space in your suitcase for a full-sezed rug, they will reliably ship your purchase safely to your home.

Karakulia's staff benefit from training, employment and adult education sessions.

Karakulia Weavers, Swakopmund

A skilled weaver works on a rug design at Karakulia

  • Address: 2 Rakatoa St (nort-east of the town centre)

  • Email: info@karakulia.com.na

5. Kristall Galerie

A unique way to spend your time in Namibia - at a crystal gallery. With exhibits to please the young and not-so young, Kristall Galerie houses the world's largest crystal cluster, estimated to be 520 million years old! Standing 3 metres tall, it took five years to excavate from the Namibian earth. The gallery also has a scratch pit - where you can sift for semi precious stones - and a replica of a mine.

Those looking for souvenirs will love the Gem Shop - selling rough gemstones as well as unique jewellery and carved artworks. Visit the Craft Area to see these pieces being created.

Kristall Galerie, Swakopmund

The replica cave. Image from Kristall Galerie's Flickr page.

  • Open: Monday-Friday 8am-5pm, Saturday 8am-1pm

  • Address: Corner of Tobias Hainyeko and Theo-Ben Gurirab Avenue

     

More Information:

Find the perfect place to stay in Swakopmund with our accommodations guide.

Get some ideas about more adventurous exploits in the region - download our Adventure Travel Planning Guide.

Discover other cities and towns in Namibia.

EXTREME NAMIBIA - Some of the World's Most COMPLEX Languages

  
  

In this weekly EXTREME NAMIBIA blog series we explore some of our country's extremes, and share with you practical information on how you can come and discover them for yourself.

Are you one of those people who like to pick up a bit of the local lingo when you travel? Do you pack a phrasebook and attempt to order your lunch in the native language? Do you like to greet people on the street? Well, in Namibia that might be a little harder than you think...

Namibia's San, Damara and Nama people speak what are recognised as some of the world's most ancient and complicated languages. Even the linguistically blessed are likely to struggle getting their mouths around these words - as not only are they unrelated to other languages outside southern Africa - they involve speaking with clicks! Here's a mini guide to help you out with some of the world's most complex phonetics.

A Quick Guide to Namibia's Click Languages

Namibia's Damara and Nama people speak Khoekhoe, while the San, also known as the Bushmen, speak various related languages, depending on the tribe. Khoekhoe has four click sounds, written |, ǂ, ! and ||, but even speakers of this language are baffled by the San - who use at least seven clicks! Even worse, getting your clicks mixed up spells trouble, as the same word with a different click has a completely different meaning.

Khoekhoe language lesson

For example:

  • hara = swallow

  • !hara = check out

  • |hara = dangle

  • ǂhara = repulse

Yikes! Fortunately for visitors, English is Namibia's official language so you won't have to master the world's most complex tongue! However, if you are up for a bit of a challenge, we've found some tutorials that might help you, or at least give you a bit of an insight into what Namibia sounds like:

Learn how to write and pronounce the Khoekhoe clicks:

Count to ten in Khoekhoe:


Listen to the San:

Facts about click languages and their speakers:

  • In Namibia, there are around 100,000 Damara, 60,000 Nama and 27,000 San, so you are sure to hear their languages on your travels!

  • It was suggested that the clicks developed as a way for hunters to communicate across the savannah - when spoken quietly the clicks sound less like speech and more like a broken branch, whih is less likely to disturb prey.

     

San hunters at a living museum

  • The languages are considered so complex because the clicking sounds are made at the same time as the consonant sounds, so you have to train your mouth to do two things at once!

  • Khoekhoe is a national language in Namibia. Many schools use it, and some universities teach in Khoekhoe.

Practical Information:

  • Meet the Damara and San at a Living Culture Museum, to learn more about their language as well as their culture and traditions.

  • Take a township tour in Mondesa, Swakopmund, to meet Damara and Nama residents and have an introduction to Khoekhoe in their home.

  • Stay at a joint venture lodge in Damaraland, such as Damaraland Camp. The Damara community members who manage the lodges have formed their own choirs - composed of managers, chefs and waiting staff! They entertain guests upon arrival and at mealtimes with the most wonderful songs - sung with clicks, of course.

A Revival of Ancient Bush Skills in Caprivi

  
  

Imagine a school without desks and chairs, without walls or a blackboard. Imagine learning skills that have been learned over thousands of years, passed down through the world’s most ancient culture. Imagine being able to identify dozens of species – from an ant to elephant – without ever seeing a single one.

Children learn in Bwabwata, Namibia

The real-world San classroom. Photo: Friedrich Alpers of IRDNC

To those of us unfamiliar with life in the bush, this seems like an impossible task. But for the San (also known as the bushmen), with thousands of years of accumulated wisdom and a lifetime spent tracking wildlife, the knowledge is innate. For millennia, their ancestors lived throughout southern Africa as hunter-gatherers with a subsistence lifestyle that made little impact on nature. Over the last thousand years, however, the San have suffered social disintegration and the erosion of their traditional values and skills as a result of oppression, persecution and loss of their land.

But in Caprivi – the small strip of Namibia sandwiched between Angola and Botswana – a group of San elders are determined to work with their youth to regain some of the skills they have lost. They hope that this will renew pride in their identity and culture, as well as creating opportunities for the youngsters to obtain employment in tourism.

The elders have developed the Tekoa Training Program in collaboration with Namibian NGO, Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC), with funding from WWF and USAID. Locally-employed community rangers, who have worked in the region for two decades, impart their bush skills to San children during the program, which takes place in Bwabwata National Park.

San trackers in Bwabwata

Newly-qualified San tracker-trainers in Bwabwata National Park. Photo: Friedrich Alpers of IRDNC

As the school kids, aged between 6 and 14, set off in single file down a fresh elephant track; the San tracker trainers, Alfred and Benson, point out millipede tracks, trapdoor spider hideouts, evidence of a scorpion’s nocturnal activities, tracks of a sable antelope rounding up his herd, and the footprints of a hunting leopard. They show the youngsters see where a tree squirrel leapt, a puff adder writhed, a gecko caught a moth and an impala marked his territory – all without spotting a single animal.

The kids are beaming with enthusiasm and eagerness to continue the exploration: the endless knowledge; the skills development of tracking; the learning of animal behavior; and the monitoring of endangered wildlife, such as cheetahs, wild dogs, roan antelopes and other rare species found in their park home.

These children are being given the opportunity to develop tracking and ecological management skills that are critical to preserve our natural system and the environment. Over the next few months, more than 200 rural children in Namibia’s remote north-east will learn the skills of their forefathers, and be able to apply these skills when looking for work and to contributing to finding sustainable solutions to the environmental challenges our planet faces.

This post is based on original article by Karine Nuulimba of IRDNC

Find Out More:

Discover how Tourism is Preserving Etosha's Hai||om Culture

  
  

“The Etosha Pan has been called many things: the Great White Place, the Big Emptiness... but the Hai||om call it the Lake of a Mother’s Tears. A mother who has lost a child will feel such grief that she will cry enough tears to fill the pan,” a park ranger tells me. “This isn’t just part of our history; it is part of our souls.” 

Namibia BushmenMoments like these, when personal stories of the people who once lived in Etosha come alive, are scarce and far in the past. Etosha National Park is one of Africa’s most remarkable game reserves, offering visitors the chance to view herds of game against the dazzling backdrop of a vast, shallow pan of silvery sand. The area south of the Great White Place, where tourist routes and lodges are situated, was once the homeland of the Hai||om, an indigenous San or Bushmen community recently recognized as the oldest humans on Earth.

For the Hai||om, the past is disappearing at a frantic pace. Days when the elders would to sit around the fire and tell stories are quickly disappearing. However, there is reason for hope on the horizon. Worried that their cultural history may die with them, the elders of the Hai||om community partnered with international researchers to establish the Xoms |Omis Project (Etosha Heritage Project). The aim of the project is to capture and document the Hai||om cultural heritage and deliver a unique body of cultural, historical and environmental knowledge.  

The Hai||om have acquired an incredible knowledge about biodiversity; the use of various plants as food and medicine; and the behavior of game in the region. Much of this knowledge has been documented through the Xoms |Omis project and is now passed on to the younger generations through workshops and joint activities.

Namibia BushmenBorn in Etosha, Homage to the Cultural Heritage of the Hai||om is the first publication to pay homage to the forgotten cultural history of the National Park. Designed to accompany the reader on a journey through Etosha, the book reincorporates the culture and history of the natural landscape. The history of selected waterholes and other culturally relevant locations accessible to visitors on the main tourist routes serve to portray the life of the Hai||om who once lived there and to highlight the history of the park. “This publication ensures that people will know our story and helps to protect our history and culture,” says Kadisen ||Khumub, the co-chair of the Xoms |Omis Project.

A series of products based on Hai||om heritage and knowledge have also been developed, such as postcards and ‘Born in Etosha’ t-shirts, allowing visitors a chance to take part in the remarkable project.

For more information about the Xoms |Omis Project, or order your copy of Born in Etosha, Homage to the Cultural Heritage of the Hai||om here.

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