Africat: a conservation island in the middle of cattle and game farms

DSC01519Africat is inspirational. Its a large farm that has been converted into a game reserve and educational centre on big cats. Its also good timing for Emma to take a break. She’s keen to get there and finishes early in high spirits.

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We have a long drive from Africat’s entrance gate to their main centre. Happily.

As soon as we enter this oasis, there are antelope, giraffe,and more warthogs.

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and funky chickens – these things would dash out in front of the car.

We stop so many times to take photos that the Africat team calls us to check we haven’t got lost. When we arrive,

The main hall. Isn't it beautiful?
The main hall. Isn’t it beautiful?

the first thing they do is feed us lots of cake.

Mmmm, delicious poppy seed cake
Mmmm, delicious poppy seed cake

The way to a runner’s (and her support team’s) heart is sweet carbohydrates.

As a team we can run, bike, fix cars, organise but we're rubbish at filling out forms.
As a team we can run, bike, fix cars, organise but filling out forms and we’re all confused.

The rooms are white and clean. A little overwhelming for our dirty crew. Instead of being crammed in a tent, we have a bed each!

Being utterly exhausted, the first night is most definitely for sleeping. Followed by an early morning game drive, followed by an introduction to the work at Africat, then radio, TV and newspaper interviews. We’re not here for a holiday.

View from the dining room - okay, I realise this may look like a holiday, well it is, for some people
View from the dining room – okay, I realise this may look like a holiday, well it is, for some people

Africat started with a farmer who had a problem with leopards. When he found that killing the leopards was not reducing the number of cattle being eaten, he started to study their behaviour. He set up a platform onto which only a leopard could jump. Jumping onto the platform would pull out the batteries to a clock so he would know what time the leopard appeared and would cause a photo to be taken. Clever eh?

Over time he was able to differentiate between the leopards. He discovered that leopards hunt at night and occupy territory, removing one leopard simply meant that another leopard would move in to that space.

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He found simple solutions to reducing the number of attacks, he began bringing the cattle in at night and keeping calves in protected kraals. (Or, apparently, you can send a mule out with your cattle. Not sure who told me that. But mules are bad and can beat up a leopard!)

This approach of living in harmony with the wildlife, having solutions that do not involve destroying wild cats is at the heart of Africat’s work. However, in the days after, on our journey, some generous and friendly farmers (they gave us sausages, we were going to like them) felt that Africat’s solutions were no good for them. Their cattle herds were too big to bring in at night. Others, however, were fully supportive of Africat’s work, agreeing that killing or capturing leopards and cheetahs was pointless.

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Clearly Africat’s educational work is successful but it needs more funding to develop their important work and make sure it is relevant to all farmers. (You can donate generously through our fundraising site  or direct to Africat UK or, if you can, go on holiday there.)

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Africat also rescues animals that have been trapped by farmers.

I think the guide is trying to tempt Woocash into the trap
“Woocash, get in and help me with this end” : )

One farmer told me he had heard stories that Africat simply release the leopard on the edge of the farm but I think this is unlikely. More likely, as others discovered, if you move one leopard out another one will take over the territory. Its pretty tricky to tell one leopard from another.

In the early morning, first thing, we are given something to wake us up:

You should definitely try it : )
You should definitely try it : )

We visit young cheetahs that have been rescued and are in a small enclosure before being released into the wider farm, where they can hunt for themselves.

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A photo to prove that we were really close and had little cameras only
Happy Mike
can you spot him?
can you spot the cheetah?

Once a big cat is rescued, they have to be looked after. Fenced areas have to be built and food has to be bought for them. This is very expensive, which is why, sensibly, Africat is focusing on education and understanding to resolve this human animal conflict.

DSC01589This is exactly the type of project the Head over Heels 2014 team wanted to raise money for. Managing the balance between humans and animals benefits everyone: cheetahs, for example, keep population of small animals down to levels where vegetation can grow and this affects soil erosion and the survival of cattle and larger herbivores.

After the morning game drive, Emma and I are interviewed by NBC with a cheetah relaxing in the shade in the background.

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It was slightly surreal, as were some of the questions.

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Whilst Emma and I are busy giving an interview on the radio, Mike and Woocash are off playing with skeletons
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In case you are interested in skeletons too

Africat isn’t all about cats though. On our way in, we see one of these:

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He was out for a walk with his friend …
the mongoose!
the mongoose!

A Pangolin, like an aardvark, but not. Not even related. These annoy farmers as they burrow holes. Some farmers kill them as they believe cattle break their legs in the holes they make. But Pangolins are really useful. They eat termites and a termite problem is not one that is easily solved by humans. They are also highly prized in China as a medicine to make your life perfect. That’s what we all want, a perfect life, but I think travelling across Africa without a wash for 5 days is a better way to find it. Each to their own imagination, I guess. Seems a pity to unnecessarily kill a Pangolin though.

P1070333Due to being extremely busy all day with interviews and learning about the work Africat does, we decide to take an extra day off our journey to clean, repack the car, write blogs and make use of the internet. Using the internet is a slow process in Namibia, particularly trying to upload photographs to the blog. Which would be bearable if i always load P1070402the photo I want but sometimes I wait 10 minutes to discover it doesn’t look right at all. Its very frustrating. At the end of two days we are all ready to get back on the journey. Before leaving, Emma eats her body weight in cakes and Africat send us off with a bag muffins. So yummy.

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Thank you Africat for an amazing few days.

Outtakes section:

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Media moment
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We’ve been running, cycling, cooking and camping in a leopard area for the last week … but wild leopard’s have tastier things to eat than humans
Looks like a statue ...
Great statue …
oh, not a statue
oh! not a statue
We're whitening our teeth. Obviously. Apparently dry teeth whitens them (see skeletons)
We’re whitening our teeth. Obviously. Apparently dry teeth whitens them (you never see a skeleton with yellow teeth, do you?)
Team HOH and Cheetahs
Team HOH and Cheetahs

 

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