cheetah mother and daughter

AfriCat Turns 21 – Dr Mark Jago

One more cup of coffee for the road

Vet Marl Jago21 years ago my family and I arrived in Namibia. It was not for the first time that we were to set foot on the dark continent, but none the less it was not without trepidation that we packed our entire worldly possessions into a container, condemned them to a long and slow transatlantic boat ride, while we ourselves climbed aboard a South African airways 747 and hurtled through the skies at speeds close to 1000km per hour from England to Africa.

Why is it that for so many the continent becomes the country? In our ignorance we believe that “Africa” is a monomorphic land full of wild places, savage animals and simple lives. It is certainly a continent strewn with a history of wars, violence and poverty, but we were not emigrating to Africa, we were going to the jewel in her crown – Namibia . . . .

“And your pleasure knows no limits
Your voice is like a meadowlark
But your heart is like an ocean
Mysterious and dark”

Laura, my wife, and I together with our two young children found ourselves living in a small town by the name of Otjiwarongo. I started work with the veterinary clinic there while Laura began with the Ministry of Health. Our children went to school. Afrikaans yes, German plenty, African languages abounded, but English . . . . you must be joking! The language may have been made the official tongue of the Namibian nation, but it was to be many years before people really started to speak such a foreign sound on a regular basis.

It was therefore a true pleasure when we were first introduced to the Hanssen family – for they really did speak English. And what an unusual family! Where to begin ? Perhaps with the patriarch . . . .

“Your daddy, he’s an outlaw
And a wanderer by trade
He’ll teach you how to pick and choose
And how to throw the blade”

Val, was a cowboy at heart, a man perhaps born at the wrong time and in the wrong place. In his younger years he would have been a formidable character. We were to come to know him in his senior quiet years when it was with delight that he watched his children become grown-ups and take over the land which he and his wife, Rose, had tamed after many long and hard years.

The sword of responsibility passed to the eldest child and only son . . . .

“He oversees his kingdom
So no stranger does intrude
His voice, it trembles as he calls out
For another plate of food”

Wayne is a visionary and an entrepreneur. A hard man to come to know, and even harder to follow as he changes his mind more frequently than the sun sets or the moon rises. But AfriCat was in his dreams and a part of his passion. So twenty one years ago Wayne together with Lisa, his former charismatic wife, kick-started the Foundation with an energy and drive which left no doubt that it would succeed. However they could not have achieved on their own the unbelievable success that the Okonjima/AfriCat story was to become. There have been many helpers along the way, but the lion’s share of the effort has to go to the three sisters . . . .

“Your sister sees the future
Like your mama and yourself
You’ve never learned to read or write
There’s no books upon your shelf”

mark_jago2As much as the head is very much a part of the AfriCat/Okonjima story, it is without a shadow of a doubt the heart which is the vital organ. How many of us know of a situation where 3 sisters work side by side, day in day out, discussing, arguing, disagreeing sometimes, but always coming out winning? Tammy, Donna and Rosalea are as different as the differing cogs that turn in a grand father clock, but, just as in the clock, they are all part of one big family making AfriCat and Okonjima tick.

And so it was twenty one years ago that my family and I started to work for AfriCat and with the Hanssen family. In the early years the work of the Foundation focused on one of the world’s most beautiful, endangered and enchanting creatures . . . .

“Your breath is sweet
Your eyes are like two jewels in the sky
Your back is straight, your hair is smooth
On the pillow where you lie”

It has been a fortune and an enormous pleasure for my family and I to be able to be part of the dream, and the team, which has worked tirelessly for twenty one years to ensure that the next generation will be able to appreciate and enjoy the cheetah in its natural state as much as our generation has. Namibia is the only country in the world where the cheetah lives on land which is actively farmed with livestock. The struggle is unrelenting with farmers needing to ensure a livelihood from the land, while at the same time the cheetah must survive from whatever resources the land has to offer. Conflict is inevitable. AfriCat through its varied works, in particular in the field of education, has undoubtedly mitigated the conflict significantly, and so has become a major player in the conservation of this mysterious creature . . . .

“But I don’t sense affection
No gratitude or love
Your loyalty is not to me
But to the stars above”

Of all the creatures that I have known, the cheetah seems one of the hardest to fathom. Looking into her eyes there appears to be only confusion and bewilderment at a world she cannot comprehend. The fastest mammal on dry land, she is yet so vulnerable. Easy to catch, to hunt, to kill, it is remarkable that in Namibia there is still a unique population which, against all odds, survives. She needs all the help she can get. Thus AfriCat is here to stay for another twenty one years and beyond. The Foundation, with help from so many corners of the planet, will continue to walk the path which, although tortuous, ultimately hopes to ensure the survival not just of the cheetah, but also of her cousins and so much more.

Therefore let us raise a glass to Bob the bard, and remember . . . .

“One more cup of coffee for the road
One more cup of coffee ‘fore I go
To the valley below”

The words of the song are all original Bob Dylan, my only liberty has been to rearrange the order of the verses slightly.      

Dr Mark Jago

 

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