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African Cats in Namibia

A cheetah is perched high allowing for a better view
A cheetah is perched high allowing for a better view
When we drove through the double layers of twenty foot tall fence when entering the Okonjima Camp in central Namibia, the first question was if the fence’s intent is to keep animals in or out.  Our guide was quick to say, “Out”.  The Okonjima Camp works in conjunction with the Africat Foundation that accepts injured cats (the big ones - cheetahs, lions, and leopards) or ones that have been a nuisance to farmers or ranchers.  So there was no shortage of cats, and our first indication of how close we were was that first night when we heard growls from our cabins.  How high was that fence?  I hope nobody left the gate open. . .

The next day of our Africa trip started with an excursion out of fences and the protected zone to track a female leopard and her cub the the guides had seen the previous day, and we were delighted to find them very quickly.  We watched the cub in training, hurrying away into the bush and then stalking back for a sneak attack to pounce on mom.  The mother leopard was aware of our presence but was at ease since our safari jeep was a healthy distance, and we sat for 45 minutes watching the sweet interactions between mother and cub.  

Later in the day, the guide said we would go on a walking safari to find some cheetahs.  Everything we were told before about staying in the vehicle and not leaving the fenced confines of the camp were put aside.  We were going to go for a hike to find cheetahs.  Not predatory for humans, it is safer to approach cheetahs, keeping a distance, and our guide got out his antenna and earphones to listen on the leopards’ radio collar frequency to see if any were in the area.  No leopards, no problems.  Let’s go look for cheetahs.  Our guides’ tracking skills were phenomenal, and our attention was diverted from cheetahs to. . .   giraffes!  Not just one, but a mother and its baby (Calf?  Colt?  Cub?)  The baby was still 15 feet tall.  

We finally got back to our mission to find cheetahs, and we found them.  Well, I didn’t.  Our guide found them somehow lounging in the shade among some grass, camouflaged from our untrained eyes.  But they did come into focus, and it was incredible to be so close.  25 meters felt really close.  The cheetahs didn’t pay too much attention to us and just lounged.  After some time, they stood up on their long legs with their long tail swinging behind them and just strolled off.  No cheetah-fast, breakneck speed, but a silent stalk into the bushes.

So we saw the smaller feline cousins so far during this African safari, and a few days later while in northern Namibia in Damaraland, we saw lions.  Up close, feeding on kills, and hunting.  It was thrilling to watch these social creatures work together to hunt an oryx.  Not quite the whole family as the males lounged in the shade, but the mother had cornered an oryx, biting or scratching the hind quarters to wound the animal, and created a teaching moment for her cubs.  The cubs were crouched on one side of the prey with the mom on the other side, and the cubs would take turns stalking and attacking the animal.  As beginners against an animal with very sharp antlers, the cubs retreated quickly and took turns.  The oryx would see an opening to get away and start trotting, and the mother lion would just stand up, just enough to make the oryx stop again.  After about 20 minutes of this lesson, the oryx finally decided to make a run for it.  The male lions were obliged to actually move, and the whole pride walked at a slower speed than the oryx was running.  When we asked if the oryx would make it, our guide just shook his head.  The lions will not lose the scent or lose this opportunity.

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