visiting school children at AfriCat

Big Cats and Big Smiles

Text: Nina van Schalkwyk
Photographs Elzanne Erasmus & Nina van Schalkwyk

There’s a certain kind of fevour that is seen only in the eyes of people with a passion for education. Gleaming with their fondness for it.
Is it because they are changing the world, one pliable mind at a time? That must be it. I am thinking this while chatting to Sue Wagner, a lifelong teacher and this weekend’s chaperone for the Mondesa Youth Opportunities (MYO) kids, who’s got exactly that look in her eyes. The MYO group arrived the previous night at AfriCat’s Okonjima Nature Reserve, just south of Otjiwarongo, to take part in an AfriCat education programme, or veldskool. 
The group came all the way from Swakopmund, where most of them have lived their whole lives. In fact, as Sue tells me, the aim behind this weekend’s excursion is to showcase a part of Namibia that they have never seen before.

But why AfriCat? Why travel all the way from the coast to the dusty plateau so far removed from anything these kids know?
Areas of farmland close to the town of Otjiwarongo have been combined into what is Okonjima. The 22 000 hectare private game reserve is home to a selection of lodges as well as AfriCat, a large carnivore education and research-based welfare organisation. Okonjima means ‘place of the baboon’, but while we are there baboons take a bit of a back seat to all the predators on the prowl that salted explorers such as myself and my colleague still are impressed to see. For the kids, it’s another story. Spotting cheetah under a bush in the open veld is one thing, walking in a direct line towards them, is a totally different matter. These cheetahs are part of AfriCat’s rehabilitation programme and thus they are used to humans. Either way, i was too skitiish for this particular part of the journey and opted to stay in the car.

We trekked through the veld, under thorn trees and past a vast expanse of grassland. We spotted zebra, oryx and a full giraffe nursery (two adults, many young ones) Finally, with the help of radio signals, we were able to locate a leopard and her cub. I’m not sure if any of the kids realised how special that moment was: leopards are some of the stealthiest creatures, staying hidden and under cover away from humans – their biggest threat. To see this wonderous big cat with her baby, who poked his head at us with curiosity through the undergrowth, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Read the whole article:
Travel News Namibia Spring 2017:
https://issuu.com/travelnewsnamibia/docs/tnn_spring_2017_issuu/28

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