Okonjima

Our last stop in Namibia was Okonjima, home to The AfriCat Foundation. We only spent one night here, but we sincerely wished we had two (or more!). It was a fantastic and extraordinarily interactive wildlife experience. This property is different than most safari camps in that many of the animals living there are semi-wild, since The AfriCat Foundation works to rehabilitate wild cats (and wild dogs). Because the leopards, cheetahs, and dogs in the park are tagged, sightings are more or less guaranteed. The guides carry tracking devices that beep when in close proximity to the receptor on the animals’ collar.

And the smaller game living right on the campgrounds are much more accustomed to human contact. They even permit (and encourage) feeding of the birds and warthogs, by providing a jar of seeds in your room to share with them. Fair warning though, there is no wall, window or screen separating your room from the great outdoors. Well, there can be, but the canvas siding is rolled up for your arrival. Also, it is a flap of canvas, so… And hence your first impression is that of no separation between you and the animals.

While (somewhat surprisingly) no animals tried to come through the gigantic open walkway into our room, we did have one hornbill that scared the bejeebies out of me by repeatedly jumping into our actual glass window, and Alan came dangerously close to getting head-butted by a warthog that grew jealous of Alan’s feeding his rivals.

We had the opportunity to go out on two game drives during our stay at Okonjima. Because you go out with a tracker device to try and spot one of the specific monitored animals, each game drive is focused on one of those four species: leopards, cheetahs, hyenas or wild dogs. On our first drive, we chose to search for the leopards. We saw several in Botswana, but they are so beautiful one can never really tire of admiring these precious cats. In not too long we spotted one and followed her down the dry riverbed for a ways. Maybe the most exquisite animal, I think.

We said goodbye to the leopard and headed to a beautiful spot for sundowners. En route we spotted several baboons, a hare, some giraffes, and warthogs. Cats and dogs aren’t the only game to be seen!

We were treated to a stunning sunset as we sipped our G&T’s, and as we imbibed we even spotted a dassie rat (a very rare sighting) that chose to join us for happy hour!

The drive closed with a bang as we passed the most adorable baby jackals on our way home! Oh god, the urge to cuddle was almost irresistible. Of course, we knew the mother had to be somewhere near, so snuggling was not an option.

At night, after dinner, we went out for a second excursion to visit what Okonjima calls the night hide. The jeep takes you back through the Jurassic Park-style gates (the lodging is outside the massive fenced area where the predators live) and then you hop out and walk a bit with your flashlights into this little protective enclosure with a small opening for viewing. On the other side, the guide drops a bunch of food scraps and lo and behold, out come these badass little animals: porcupines and honey badgers! Things are seriously hard-core. And honey badgers, as anyone with internet access knows, just don’t care. We were even lucky enough to spot a brown hyena on the drive home when our headlights caught the glow of its eyes. Too dark for pictures though, and bummer because it was our first and only brown hyena sighting on the trip.

And here’s a little video showing the porcupine putting those quills to action.

For our final drive the next morning, we went out in search of the cheetahs. It was starting to look futile as we neared the end of the property with no beeps from the tracking device. But soon enough, we parked the jeep, and WALKED off in the direction of some identified cheetah activity. Crazy right? I mean, they are only semi-wild cheetahs, but they are still wild enough to require that Rohan (the fantastic resident guide) pack a 9mm and Jimmy (our Namibia guide) carry this big old stick in case of attack. So the fear factor really does get your adrenaline going.

We were maybe 15 feet away from these beautiful creatures. I think we were most surprised by how long and slender they are. Their bodies are like slinkies.

Of course, the cats are not alone. There are many wild animals roaming the property, and we saw lots during the course of our stay. The variety of antelopes here was the greatest out of all our stops in Africa: eland, impala, kudu, oryx (including the tiniest baby oryx!), duiker, steenbok, and red hartebeest.

And just as we were grabbing our bags to leave, we spotted an elephant shrew hanging out in a termite mound just outside of our room! Some epic animal sightings here at Okonjima, that is for sure. We were sad to leave this camp and sad to say goodbye to Namibia, but ready for the final nation of our round-the-world voyage: South Africa!

Practical Info

Okonjima is a 55k acre private game reserve and home to The AfriCat Foundation, which rehabilitates cheetahs, wild dogs, hyenas and leopards.

To recap our Namibia itinerary: we spent a transit night in Windhoek; then we drove southwest to the Sossusvlei area and stayed two nights at Hoodia Desert Lodge; then we drove northwest to Swakopmund and stayed two nights at Organic Square Guesthouse; then we drove north to Damaraland and stayed two nights at Doro !Nawas; then we drove east to Okonjima where we stayed one night before departing the next day via Windhoek. With the benefit of hindsight we might have altered this slightly. Driving times may be long and traveling at night is not advised (mainly for the risk of hitting animals), so you may need to spend two nights somewhere to have just one day. That said, we would probably have spent one night in Swakopmund and two at Okonjima, and we might have visited Etosha National Park to top up our wild safari bucket.

Transportation: We drove from Doro !Nawas, I think passing Khorixas, Outjo and maybe Otjiwarongo. The road was dirt at times and paved at others. We departed for Windhoek and our international flights onward: Mom and Rich to Johannesburg, we to Cape Town.

Accommodation: Much like most places we’ve stayed in Botswana and Namibia, the setup here is a central “lodge” area that is covered and open-sided where you gather, eat meals, etc. A small but nice pool is there. Then there are several very spacious cabins set apart from each other. At least this is the case in the Bush Camp, where we stayed. One of the awesome things about this place is there are animals hanging out nearby. There were a couple warthogs right by the main area, and our cabin had rolled up front windows open to warthogs, guinea fowl and some others within a few feet of us. Plus, of course, the insane hornbill who kept jumping into our side glass window. There is no WiFi in the rooms, but it works quite well in the main area.

Food and Drinks: We ate all our meals at the lodge, and the food was very good. At least for our package, certain wine was included but generally alcohol was not.

Activities: We participated in three great activities. First was leopard tracking, and we got quite a bit of reasonably up close time with Shanti, a female leopard. After dinner that night, we visited the night hide. The guide laid out some food scraps and immediately three porcupines and two honey badgers joined us. Very cool. The next morning we did cheetah tracking, and for these somewhat smaller and less dangerous cats (vs. leopards or of course lions) we actually got out of the vehicle and walked over to them. We stood/kneeled about 15 feet away from Spud and Coco Chanel (bro and sis) plus their buddy Bones. Super neat.

We did not have enough time to try wild dog or hyena tracking, nor to visit The AfriCat Foundation education center.

October 24-25, 2014 (Friday-Saturday)

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