Otjitotongwe Cheetah Park
November 5th – Day Forty Two
We left the camp site at 8am and had our last drive through the Etosha National Park, leaving on our way towards the nights accommodation at the Otjitotongwe Cheetah Park. The journey out of the park was uneventful, nothing being sighted that we hadn’t already seen and photographed before, I think we’re all a little jaded when it comes to game parks now. The drive to the Cheetah Park was swift and we were setting up tents in the rocky, dusty campsite before having lunch. Lunch completed we were at leisure to do what we wanted until around 4pm when we would be met by Mario, the park owner, and he would introduce us to a tame cheetah before we went off to feed the park cheetahs in their enclosure.
A few of us made our way to the bar and played a bit of pool while we waited for the time to tick over. Slowly everyone came along and we were introduced to Mario who explained what would be happening. He actually had the cheetah behind the bar, a three month old cub who had been bought in from farm where it had been captured. As it was born in the wild the cub was still mostly wild itself, Mario only having introduced it to people the a few times beofre our visit. He took the cub outside and we were all able to slowly approach the cub and stroke it’s fur behind the head and around it’s back and body. We were warned not to get in front of the eyes or around the mouth and the little guy was certaintly in no mood for play being aggitated, scared and grumpy. We all had our turns coming up behind the cheetah and stroking it, all a little bit nervous and jumpy which can’t have helped the cub settle down any. There were a few hisses and spits as the cheetah turned around and saw us approaching but once it was being stroked it seemed to calm down a bit.
Brendon and the cheetah cub
Just been fed but still touchy
Mario told us about the farm, basically a refuge for cheetah’s, and about the state of affairs for the cheetah in Namibia. Namibia is the cheetah capital of Africa but the natural areas for the cheetah to live are slowly being taken by farmers, and farm animals are an easy prey for a grown adult cheetah. The law in Namibia says that farmers can shoot cheetahs on their property so the population is in decline, there are still the game parks but they don’t seem to want to take cheetahs from non-protected areas. Mario believes that it is best for the cheetahs that come into his care to stay in the park (they have a large fenced off area for the cheetah’s to roam) rather than be re-introduced into the wild. He says he has tried talking to national parks but they don’t want to take the cheetah and if he were to let them go back into the Namibia wilderness they would once more become targets for irate farmers. As it’s a private operation there isn’t a lot of money for repatriation to parks further afield say in adjacent countries so for now any cheetah that arrives will be living in the Cheetah Park for good. I’m not sure I agree with this philosophy, they’re safer in the park but I think they belong in the wild, it’ll probably take some sort of revision of national policy before Mario changes his mind.
There was also a woman by the name of Chanel at the park on the day we visited, she visiting Mario and helping out for a while. Chanel is in management at a hunting park in Namibia and it was facinating listening to her talk. The park she works at sells hunting opportunity to both bow and rifle owners who want to kill african game such as oryx, rohan and sable. It’s possible to kill and elephant, a lion, a cheetah or even a leopard if you have the money and the time. Chanel said most of the hunters some in with lists of animals they want to shoot, she spoke of one man who killed 32 different animals in one week and had all the trophies (mounted heads, horns, what ever they want) shipped off home. With thousands of animals in the park there is a lot of management to be done of people and resources and Chanel enjoys her job, even if she’s not entirely happy to be working with some of the hunters. Some of these people turn up with the most outragous weopons and ammunition, high calibre bullets that can blow a limb off an animal rather than killing it if the hunter misses their shot. The park Chanel works for has a one shot kill policy, you’re out to track the animal and once you have a good aim kill it with one shot. Once the animal is sighted then the hunter proceeds on food (always with a master hunter and guides) to track the animal to obtain the killing shot. Chanel had shot her first oryx a few days previous, tracking it for many kilometers on foot before the killing shot could be made. The stories of what these hunters pay to do were quite upsetting, especially when Chanel told us of websites you can go to, look through a webcam and fire a gun in another country to kill an animal which is then packed off as a trophy for your wall – that’s not hunting, it’s just sick. I can’t understand the whole hunting lodge thing myself, it’s all far beyond anything I can understand but I can see how people would do this from a financial standpoint, the hunters pay tens if not hundreds of rand for some of the larger or rarer animal kills.
Enough of the killing talk. Once we had all patted the cheetah we were loaded onto the back of a truck and headed out to feed the park cheetah. We drove around to the gate and then slowly through the many hecatares of enclosure before coming across the cheetah in a far corner. There are 18 cheetah currently in the park and they are all fed once a day. The staff take out meat sourced from places like the hunting lodges (obviously the hunters have no need for the meat and it’s another source of revenue for the lodge) and do their best to feed all teh cheetah by throwing the meat out to individual animals. We had a good time watching the feeding, cheetah racing about trying to catch the thrown meat or away to eat in private. It was over quickly and as the cheetah all either fed or searched for more food we departed back up to the bar.
Waiting for dinner to decend
Chasing each other for food
Back at the bar we dispersed back to the campsite to prepare and then have dinner. Will and I were given guitar lessons by Steve, some people went to the bar and others sat around drinking tea and coffee while chatting. The need for sleep crept upon us and we all eventually secommed, heading off to bed.