OK we cheated. We knew seeing cheetahs and leopards in Etosha was going to be a challenge. We drove around endlessly, circling the flat salt pans, looking under bushes and squinting up at tree branches. But despite our best efforts these big cats remained elusive to us. So our back-up plan was to stay at the luxury Okanjima Resort, a private nature reserve that offered our best chance to see cheetahs and leopards in a natural, though somewhat artficial environment. The reserve offers guests an opportunity to go on game viewing drives to track these animals using radio tracking devices. Is that cheating? Some say it’s fake and staged. But Kim wanted to make sure she saw cheetahs and since we had already seen cheetahs and leopards in Tanzania we didn’t mind.
Africa Carnivore Conservation
The reserve is also home to the Africat Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the rehabilitation and protection of Africa’s large carnivores. In addition to the cheetahs and leopards they also have spotted hyenas and the rare African wild (painted) dogs. We went on three game drives: Leopard tracking, wild dogs/cheetah tracking and hyena tracking. The cheetah and hyena tracking are by foot once they are located.
Leopards and Sundowners
Our first excursion was to track the elusive leopard. Straight away our guide, Peter, set expectations that even with the use of a radio tracking device there is no guarantee we would see the leopards. They can be under a bush well hidden or up in the mountain where we can’t get to them.
Our first attempt to track a cat named Nandy dead-ended at the base of a mountain. We started to wonder if we would see a leopard after all. We then went to the interior to look for JoJo. Peter, waving his attennae and following the beep beep, found JoJo hovering over a fresh kill, a common duiker. According to Peter we probably missed the kill by 5 minutes. We sat mesmerized watching JoJo tear into the stomach, creating a perfect hole while avoiding disturbing the innards so as to not attract the hyena. Towards the end we were hoping to see the leopard drag the kill up to a tree but it didn’t happen.
After the game drive we went to a high spot for a sunset view and sundowner.
Chasing Wild Dogs & Walking with Cheetahs
The next morning we went on a game drive to track African wild dogs with Peter and Kavamba our official tracker (he had a shirt that said “tracker” so that’s how we knew). The chance to see wild dogs even in a somewhat simulated environment was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up as these animals are really rare to see in the wild. There are only 5,000 left. This time we had to go deeper into the reserve to find them.
On our way to find the dogs we just happened to see a leopard, Leila, crossing the road. And we didn’t even track her.
When the beeps got louder and we got closer, Peter and Kavamba saw two wild dogs, Robbin & Yogi (named after soccer players), running through the bush and chased after them. They were hunting he said. We eventually found them with a freshly killed baby kudu with one of its eyeballs torn out of its socket. Peter explained that when the wild dogs hunt they take out the eyes to blind their prey so they get disoriented and can’t run away.
The baby kudu was still twitching and moaning as the dogs started to rip into the animal with such intense ferocity, digging into the carcass pulling out its intestines, liver and heart, gulping it all down. We watched it all in fascinated horror as the cycle of life played out before us. We couldn’t help ourselves.
Occasionally the dogs would stop look at us in curiosity (or maybe as prey) their muzzle dripping in blood.
Soon after, the show was over as the dogs with a full belly laid down and went to sleep. Aren’t they really cute though.
After leaving the dogs to sleep, we moved on to our next target, the cheetah. With the magic attennae wand, Kavamba was able to locate two cheetahs, Starsky & Harley (named after motorbikes), walking across the road. The cheetahs eventually settled under a tree.
We got out of the truck and walked to get closer to the animals. Keeping a safe distance we slowly approached and observed them while the cheetahs looked at us with disinterest.
Though it wasn’t as exciting as the wild dogs and leopard kill it still was kinda cool to get pretty close by foot.
This Hyena was not Laughing
In the afternoon we went on our final game drive to track the Hyena. Our guide was Gideon and tracker was still Kavamba. We had really high expectations after witnessing two kills from our previous game drives. Once we located the hyena’s general whereabouts we set off on foot to find him. We found him lying in a wash.
We must have disturbed him at some point as Pooh (their hyenas are all named after English bears just as the cheetahs are named after motorcycles and the dogs are named after soccer players) got up to walk away from us to find a quieter spot to lay down. Of course we followed him. Poor guy just wanted to sleep off the hot afternoon.
And the Non-Carnivores
Other animals we saw during our game drive: common duiker, dik dik, bat-eared fox, chacma baboons, swallow-tailed bee-eater and a tortoise.
We were happy to see these animals even if they were attached to a radio collar in a private reserve.
Plains Camp, Room 6
After 7 straight days of camping it was nice to finally pamper ourselves and stay in this lodge. By staying here we were also helping to fund the conservation efforts of these animals. This is slacktivism at its best.