Harriet O’Brian describes the problems and thrills of tracking Africa’s big cats in the wild from the elusive leopard to the worlds fastest animal, the cheetah.
“A cheetah sighting is really a matter of luck, says Roger Diski of Rainbow Tours. Namibia has the biggest population of these cats, while Sabi Sands in South Africa is also promising for cheetah-watching.”
O’Brian also recommends the cheetah and big cat rehabilitation centres in South Africa and Namibia. “Farmers, who traditionally shot cheetah in order to protect their livestock, have been increasingly encouraged to trap these predators and bring them to the rescue foundations. "The rehabilitation centres are a very necessary part of conservation and are by no means zoos," explains Diski.”
Rainbow Fact File
Rainbow Tours (020-7226 1004; rainbowtours.co.uk) offers a seven-night self-drive itinerary to see cheetah and other big cats in Namibia, taking in Okonjima Lodge, which is home to the conservation charity the AfriCat Foundation, where you can meet rescued cheetah and leopard. The trip costs from £1,590 per person covering two nights at Okonjima's very comfortable Bush Camp; four nights in two separate camps in Etosha National Park;; car rental; many meals and activities, and return flights from Gatwick to Windhoek.
Niall Griffiths travelled with Rainbow Tours to Namibia where he describes how “Nothing prepares you for the moment when you first lock eyes with a wild lioness… Every hair on your body stands, skin tingles, throat dries and your heartbeat thumps in your skull. You know you'll remember this moment forever. The cat, meanwhile, has decided that you're inedible, inside your moving tin can, has forgotten you already and walked on.”
Niall Griffiths examines the “renovation of the accommodation and service facilities at various state lodges and camps scattered across the country. While private Namibian luxury safari pads can cost £400pp a night, the NWR's charge a quarter of that and not, now, at the expense of style.” Now “environmental issues” and “sustaibale tourism” are being taken in to account and while “Etosha national park is due to celebrate its centenary in 2006” Tobie Aupindi, managing director of Namibian Wildlife Resorts is making sure that any development that takes places allows Etosha to last “for another century”.
He describes the sights, smells and sounds of a dawn drive “into the famous dunes, an Andes of sand” and the friendly and relaxed company of the Namibian people. He describes how he “could only gawp as the giraffes passed gracefully in front of the car, (collectively called, here, a "kaleidoscope"; zebras gather in "dazzles") stormclouds launched lightning at the earth” and 17 lions gathered at a waterhole.
After staying at Halali Lodge and Namutoni Lodge, he concludes that “These camps are more an expression of national pride than a means of capturing the tourist dollar, and I was sad to leave them.” He was told, on leaving the country that "whatever country in the world you love, you'll soon love Namibia more" and admits that the well-travelled Francois who offered him this advice, was right.