Okonjima Nature Reserve is a vast reserve in the Central Highlands area of Namibia...
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Okonjima Nature ReserveJust south of Otjiwarongo, in central Namibia, Okonjima started off as a guest farm about 25 years ago, around the same time that the AfriCat Foundation was set up to here to help conserve some of Namibia’s threatened carnivores. Since then, Okonjima’s offering to guests has broadened into several camps, all within a landscape of rolling hills and grassy plains – which is now known as the Okonjima Nature Reserve. A stay in one of the camps within this 220km2 reserve usually focuses mostly on Namibia’s big cats, with excellent opportunities to learn about them, and to view them at close quarters.
Now the Okonjima Reserve includes a fenced central core, from which the predators are excluded. Here you’ll find the Okonjima Plains Camp, the Okonjima Bush Camp and the Okonjima Bush Suite. Outside of this, and surrounding it on all sides, is the reserve proper – where there’s plenty of free-roaming natural game, and this is where the Okonjima Villa is located.
History of OkonjimaGoing back to the 1890’s and colonial South West Africa, Okonjima was used by the German military. Due to its relative high altitude, in the area, it was apparently free of the African Horse Sickness and therefore it was a good place to rest their horses. From the early 1920s Okonjima was used as a cattle farm and in 1970 Val and Rose Hanssen bought the farm, to breed and farm Brahman and Jersey cattle. Throughout the time that cattle were kept on the farm, loses of stock to predators, particularly leopards, caused a strain on the finances.
Okonjima’s relationship with Namibia’s big cats did not start too favourably, as livestock losses to predators resulted in them being actively persecuted. However, herein developed an interest to further understand the habits and behaviour of Namibia’s big cats, particularly leopards.
The tourism element to Okonjima had humble beginnings: it started in 1986 as an overnight stop for travellers between Etosha and Windhoek. From here it grew, they began to offer bird watching experiences, trails demonstrating skills of the Bushman and baited leopard viewing. They also raised a cheetah cub called Chinga, discovered in a cage at an auction, which would appear on the lawn at afternoon tea, and allow visitors to stroke it. The farm was very well run by the Hanssen family, and gradually word of Okonjima’s carnivores, and their work with them, began to spread. By 1992 Okonjima was a ‘highlight’ on any visitor’s trip around Namibia.
In 1993 Val and Rose’s three children; Wayne, Donna and Rosalea Hanssen purchased the farm from their parents and initially the reserve became home to cheetah and leopard rescued from conflict with livestock farmers. It continued to grow with further accommodation built to accommodate the increase in visitors.
The AfriCat Foundation was born in the same year, in order to support the conservation and research efforts on the reserve. This is a non-profit organisation set up to conserve and protect Namibia’s threatened cheetah, leopard and other wild carnivores. Now it is renowned for long-term conservation of Namibia’s carnivores, through community support and education, rehabilitation and human-wildlife conflict mitigation.
Okonjima is still home to and run by the Hanssen family.
Okonjima’s fauna and flora
The Predators of OkonjimaNamibia is home to over 20% of the world’s cheetah population – the largest concentration in the world. Since 1993, AfriCat has rescued over 1,000 cheetahs and leopards from Namibian farmland, returning over 85% of these animals to the wild.
This large reserve enables predators brought to the reserve, which may have been orphaned or removed from the wild at an early age, to live independently and to gain the experience that they need to return to the wild. The Okonjima Reserve provides a safe environment for this and often the animals are radio collared, so that they can be monitored closely. There are a few cheetah that over the years have not developed the skills to live independently and these are cared for within the AfriCat welfare programme. Also present within the AfriCat welfare programme are leopard and lion.
As well as cheetah and leopard, other predators present on the reserve are wild dog, brown hyena, African wildcat, honey badger, caracal, aardwolf, bat-eared fox and black-backed jackal.