20 September 2010

Cheetah Kingdom

Like millions of other TV viewers, I have been watching Cheetah Kingdom. I really enjoy this series, more so because I visited Okonjima in Namibia several years ago and wrote a feature on the work of the Africat Foundation. 

We knew the visit was going to be special as soon as the wheels of the light plane touched down on the Okonjima airstrip, for running alongside the plane were two cheetahs behind a fence. They were having fun, racing the plane as it sped along the strip.

For the next three days we learnt about the work of the Africat Foundation, including the rescue of cheetahs trapped, poisoned or shot by farmers, injured on the roads, and the rearing of kittens left to die when their mother had been shot. It was all very sad, but it was uplifting to see the cats enjoying their lives, albeit in huge enclosures. There was one character who only had three legs and until the guide pointed this fact out, I don't think any of us had noticed.

There is a big release programme too. First the animals considered suitable for release are prepared by being moved into huge pens where they have little human contact and then they are allowed into the reserve.  To-date Africat has released more than 1000 cats - cheetahs and leopards - a fantastic record.

Africat is keen to education the local people to the importance of protecting the cheetahs and leopards. Rather than simply tell farmers not to shoot the cats, they try to show farmers different ways of managing their cattle, so that the cattle are less vulnerable to cheetah attack. It was going to be an uphill struggle, especially with some of the 'die-hard' farmers who has always 'done it this way' but they were hopeful that once a few farms were converted the others would see the benefits.

It was a wonderful place to visit, not just because of the cheetahs and leopards, but because of the wealth of wildlife everywhere - the birds of prey on almost every post, caracals in the gardens, and yes the odd snake including one bushmaster that sprung up in front of us as we made our way by torchlight from our room to the main lodge. Now that really did get our hearts beating!

for more info visit their website http://www.africat.org/

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