OKONJIMA NATURE RESERVE

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The 22,000 ha (55,000 acres), Okonjima Nature Reserve:

The 96 kilometre fence surrounding the 22,000 ha Okonjima private, Nature Reserve was finally completed in 2010. This fence has created:

Although hunting is instinctive in carnivores, many of the cheetahs at AFRICAT lack experience due to being orphaned or removed from the wild at an early age. This inexperience, as well as their conditioning to captivity, makes them unsuitable for release. The 200km (20 000ha) NATURE RESERVE | PARK, provides captive cheetahs and other carnivores with the opportunity to hone their hunting skills and become self-sustaining and thereby giving them a chance to return to the wild. The captive cheetahs are fitted with radio-collars prior to their release into the reserve, so that their welfare and progress can be closely monitored.

Rehabilitation gives a captive carnivore a second chance to be released back into the wild and to take the time it needs, to become a completely independent hunter – in a protected area right in the middle of commercial farmland!

Here are the stats:

  • The 4500ha (10 000 acres) OKONJIMA | TUSK TRUST CHEETAH REHABILITATION NATURE RESERVE, was completed towards the end of 1999 and stocked with game by June 2000.
  • Our first cheetahs, 3 orphan sibling males [Huey, Dewey & Louis], who had been with us since they were two months old, were released into the Okonjima Nature Reserve in November 2000.
  • July 2008 saw the release of 3 captive Spotted Hyaena [Rupert, Paddington & Pooh] into the Rehabilitation Park. Two of them were born in captivity. The older male was born in Etosha, and in 1989 sold at a game auction and had been in captivity ever since. In 2002 they were all rescued by The AfriCat Foundation.
  • In May 2002, we introduced 4 new cheetahs into the Park [Eeny, Meeny, Miney & Mo] with the hope that they would achieve the same success, thereby giving them a second chance in the wild where they belong!
  • The next 4 cheetahs that were deprived of the chance to learn hunting as well as life skills from their mother were, Zeus, Apollo, Athena and Artemis. She was shot, leaving them orphaned at the age of six months. Too young to be released on their own, they came into AfriCat’s care in February 2001. They were released into the Okonjima Nature Reserve in 2005.
  • The final 20 000ha perimeter fence was complete in May 2010 and it cost over N$6 million to complete.
  • November 2011 – THE 2 OKONJIMA REHABILITATION RESERVES (4000HA & 16 000HA) – MERGE INTO A 20 000 ha (200km²) PRIVATE, NATURE RESERVE.
  • In 2010, 17 captive Cheetahs and 4 hand-reared Wild Dogs from AfriCat’s Welfare Unit were the first to be released into the 200km ² private, Okonjima Nature Reserve. [ Frankie, Hammer, Bones, Spud, Coco | Tongs | Zen, Zippy & Toby | Charlie & Trish | Cyclops | Twiggy | Abbey, Tintin, Mulder & Scully | Rex, Ruby, Ricky & Raine]
  • In 2012 another 5 cheetahs were released in the Park. [Dizzy, Dash, Ruf, Tumble & Baxter]
  • In 2013 – 6 cheetahs were released into the Park, 1 mother and 5 cubs. [Penta and her 5 cubs]

OCTOBER / NOVEMBER 2011 – THE 2 OKONJIMA REHABILITATION RESERVES (4000HA & 16 000HA) – MERGE INTO A 20 000 ha (200km²) PRIVATE RESERVE:

OKONJIMA & AFRICAT. A SYMBIOSIS @ WORK:

Okonjima is responsible for the maintenance of the roads, the fences, the fire-breaks, river-crossings, and the buildings on Okonjima farm, as well as the up-keep of the airstrip used by visiting guests and AfriCat donors.

Okonjima is responsible for the acquisition of all new farmland and game introductions, and also supplies the reserve with water points and bore-holes, as well as the payment of all government land taxes.

Okonjima supplied the entire property with the national power grid and all standby generators.

Okonjima is responsible for the payment of 70% of all staff salaries and 95% of AfriCat’s advertising.

Okonjima is also responsible for the installations and maintenance of all communication systems on the property. (telephones, 2-way-radios, computers) and covers all security on the premises.

Okonjima supplies additional staff during ‘large projects’ and is responsible for the building and maintenance of all staff housing.

These points have been emphasised to create awareness of the result of a successful relationship between a profit-making organisation (Okonjima Lodge) and a not-for-profit foundation (AfriCat). Foundations depend on sponsorship to survive, and for that exact reason – often collapse, for funding runs out.

When an organisastion like Okonjima takes care of all the “nasties” such as salaries, admin costs, advertising etc, – the Foundation can then afford to concentrate on more serious issues such as conservation and the direction the project should take to make a long-term difference, instead of wasting valuable time and money, surviving running costs and inflation.

When a donor sponsors the Foundation, that sponsorship is directly used to improve the life of the cat, and not to buy insurance or pay for the broken fax machine.

Without tourism Okonjima’s support would not be possible and there would be no AfriCat – there would be no story like this to tell.

This message is important for every potential tourist to understand – for without the support of the travel trade, 95% of all ‘Non Government Organisations’ (NGO’S) all over Africa – would close down.

AfriCat founder, Wayne Hanssen talks ‘Grassland-science’! 

FILMED AND EDITED BY ITV, UK – © itv 2010. Taking Care of the Land: Wayne Hanssen leads the Okonjima team in a tourism venture that offers their guests ‘authenticity’ and ‘luxury’. Funds are used for ‘conservation’, ‘environmental education’ and ‘social responsibility’.
HIS PASSION: Is grassland science.
HIS DREAM: To turn Okonjima’s 55 000acres of Nature Reserve into what it once looked like, before man destroyed it due to a lack of understanding the fragile nature of our environment.
HIS WISH: Is for the next generation that hold the future of this land in their hands, to learn from our mistakes and to ‘BE the change they wish to see’ in this beautiful country, Namibia!

Okonjima’s New 20,000 Hectare Reserve

16 000 ha and the 4,000 ha Reserve merge in November 2011 to make one large 200 km² Private Nature Reserve

The length, height and cost of the fence & reason for its design:

This fence is 98 kilometres in length, 2.4 metres high and costs about N$ 74 000.00 per kilometre. It was built in this way to control predator movement. Since the 4 000 hectare fence was erected in 2000, the original design has been up-dated; the new fence will prevent predators from coming in and moving out of this Reserve. In this way, effective research can be carried out on the Park’s resident carnivores without disturbance from any other carnivores which may find their way in due to the high density of game inside of the Park.

Why is this fence electrified?

The improved electrification is an upgrade from the 4 000 hectare camp; the 4 000 ha fence was originally designed to prove that leopard movement can be controlled by electrifying fences, but over the past 12 years the major damage to these fences was caused by territorial Oryx fighting through the fence from both sides. The long ‘arm’ has been modified to shock the Oryx before they reach the actual fence, hereby preventing damage.

The current height of the wire strand attached to the ‘arm’ is 800 mm off the ground, but the Oryx simply reach underneath it with their horns and continue to fight; this height has been amended to 600 mm which will shock the Oryx on the legs instead of its chest. This could also prevent the spread of Rabies amongst kudus, as the electrical strand on the extended ‘arm’ will prevent them from coming into contact with one another through sniffing and licking through the fence. By preventing animals from coming too close to the fence, Rabies may then only be transferred through other carriers such as mongoose, which should decrease the rate of infection.

What have we learned in the 4 000 hectares and the reasons for increasing the size to 20,000 hectares?

The reasoning behind the 4 000 hectare camp was to prove to farmers that one can farm alongside carnivores and that they do not wipe out populations of indigenous game. The 4 000 ha camp originally contained 500 head of game (antelope, warthog, etc), 6 cheetahs and 6 leopards, which was 3 times the number of carnivores normally occurring in a fenced area of this size. Even with these high predator numbers, over a period of 12 years the game numbers increased from 500 to 1200. This has proven that high predation stimulates production. Farmers are however, reluctant to believe this, despite the length of time over which the research was done to prove this.

We have also learned that wildebeest and hartebeest need more open plains and to be able to sustain a higher cheetah population, the larger park would need more small-game species. Thus, the springbok and impala populations have to be increased within the 20 000 hectare camp.

Territorial pressure was extremely high in the 4 000 hectare camp; our leopard population was too large, with four mature males, two females, one of which was having her next set of cubs. Fighting increased and we feared potential fatalities; providing a safer and less pressured environment for the adult female and her two new cubs was one good reason to increase the size of the camp.

The fence between the 4 000 ha and 15 000 ha area was taken down at the end of 2011, and the dynamics have changed dramatically: within the newly established 20 000 ha Park, we estimate approximately 22+ leopards and a research project has been tabled to establish more reliable numbers. Relocation of some resident leopards will have to be done to open up territory for the new generations; increased monitoring and the introduction of a greater variety of game species, is inevitable. Managing and balancing the demands of a reserve is a great challenge.

Fences – the dilemma

Fences create the dilemma – Namibia is one of the most ‘fenced’ countries in Africa. The main reason for fencing our Park is to establish a protected environment for the AfriCat Rehabilitation Programme. It will take a few generations for our education programme to have the desired effect on people dealing with carnivores on open farmland. Because most captive carnivores rely on and trust humans (they have lost their natural fear of humans), the cheetahs released into the Park would be shot by neighbouring farmers, if it was not fenced. There was no way in which we could manage our Rehabilitation and Education Programmes in this Park, allowing the carnivores to roam freely. The presence of ‘tame’ carnivores on adjacent farmland would have resulted in increased, indiscriminate shooting of these animals and with the increased number of antelope moving from our Park onto neighbouring farms, the hunting thereof for meat would also have increased, making easy money from meat sales. Thus, we are forced to monitor these programmes within our borders, to remove and add prey species as we see fit for the purpose of research and equilibrium.

WHAT CHANGES DO WE SEE SINCE INCREASING THE SIZE OF THE PARK FROM 4,000 TO 20,000 HECTARES?

The impala bachelor herds, giraffe bulls and the zebra were the first to migrate into the new area and this was clearly due to pressure within the smaller area. The other species have held their original territories within the 4 000 hectares and only moved within 100 meters of where the fence was, before returning. It will be interesting to observe the impact that the increased area may have on the brown hyena population; prior to dropping the fence, there were two separate groups, one on each side of the fence; monitoring via our camera systems will show when the two groups will find one another and possibly merge.

We have noticed that the leopard population is saturated; thus, all future progeny will increase territorial pressure within the 20 000 hectare park, making it very difficult to sustain our Cheetah Rehabilitation Programme. To have enough space for the cheetah to hunt, we need to open up the bush-encroached areas, bring in small prey species such as Springbok and more Impala and decrease leopard numbers through relocation. In this way, we will have a better balance between animal populations in the reserve. As a model for the environmental side of the education programme, we shall be monitoring the habitat which herbivores control and in turn the carnivores, which control the herbivores, all to be managed by us.

The ultimate goal is using this ‘handkerchief sanctuary’ (a description for island-bound conservation used in the book ‘An Arid Eden’ by Garth Owen-Smith, director of the NGO, IRDNC) as a model for what this area looked like about 200 years ago, before it was influenced by cattle farming, and use this primarily as an education programme for the next generation.

Wayne Hanssen
Owner of Okonjima Lodge