BootsnAll Travel Network

Otjiwarongo Cheetah Camp


June 5, 2002
The next morning James drives us back to Outjo, the small predominantly German/Afrikaner town we had stayed in before and we buy apple strudel and real drip coffee in the bakery and scarf it up during a 10 minute email check on one of the two terminals. Then on to the Cheetah Camp for lunch and tent set-up.

The camp is owned and operated by an Afrikaner farm family who is trying to conserve some of the only 2000 Cheetahs left in Namibia. We all pile into the back of Mario’s pick-up and he drives us to the homestead a couple miles away. As we walk through the gates we see four Cheetahs pacing back and forth across the lawn. We are led around to the back of the house with Cheetah’s dashing unexpectedly back and forth-sometimes brushing our legs-one dashed at me and clamped his teeth softly around my ankle-releasing a flood of adrenalin!

Bob whispers in my ear that we are probably going to get hit up for a donation while Mario and his dad pet the Cheetahs. He approaches us one-by-one and asks if anyone wants to come pose with a Cheetah for a picture. A few have their picture taken.

Then Mario disappears and the Cheetahs start pacing expectantly. Bob says there is going to be a surprise…and sure enough Mario comes back with a bucket full of meat chunks which he throws to the Cheetahs to catch with their powerful jaws in mid-air. All this time some of us notice sheep and goats bleating nervously in the field outside the yard…then after a few hat and stick throwing and catching we are taken in the back of the pick-up again to some large fenced areas near the camp area and watch as Mario throws large pieces of meat to the wild Cheetahs.

At the end of the demonstration Mario disappears and returns with a baby Cheetah that is less than a week old-the oooohhhs and aaaaahhhhhs go up-especially when he nuzzles it with his chin…but…but…questions will be answered in the bar in ten minutes he says.

Then we get a fairly passionate pitch from the young good looking ex rugby player: Cheetahs are recognized as an endangered species everywhere except in Namibia and the farmers are killing them off to keep them out of their livestock. The problem is, he says, that Namibia has passed some laws that prevent Cheetahs from being trapped and sold to parks and game reserves-instead the laws require that any trapped Cheetah has to be neutered. It’s bullshit, he repeats angrily over and over.

So Mario and his family are running an illegal operation…this is Africa he says when questioned…as long as you are careful you can play the game…Mario and his family believes that by working for years with Cheetahs they have learned some game management techniques that the so-called authorities do not learn from “the books” one of which is that Cheetahs will breed in captivity if they are happy. But what is “captivity” he asks…even the Etosha National Park is fenced he says…

At the end he asks for donations in return for being on a email list…his goal he says is reaching the outside world and the media. I think of two things that would be good for him to do. Form a non-profit organization so that he is above reproach as far as money is concerned and so that donations can be tax deductible. Also no reputable media association is going to be able make his case for him until someone with credentials-not associated with the environmental groups that he thinks are in cahoots with the political entities of the country-comes in and studies his game management. Bob looks at me and says what he needs is a good grant writer…I ask him if he wants to live in Namibia but he doesn’t reply. In the end I give Mario US $5 to help pay for the donkey meat he feeds the game because I want to be on his mail list-and I want the recipes for the homemade Afrikaner squash boats, curried cabbage and pickled beets that is served with the spit lamb after the talk.

Mario will stay up as long as he can sell the rest of the campers shots of everything alcoholic on his shelf…we hear laughing and talking coming from the partiers in the bar until early morning! The next day on the road Heather is sick again…

Meeting Mario and his family gives us our first contact with rural Afrikaner farm culture. Working the land makes you very down to earth and practical anyway. However, Mario had an independent attitude that reminded me of my dad. When he sold the ranch in southern Oregon and bought a small acreage near Salem to be near his only grandchildren, I told him that since he no longer had a Caterpiller cat to dig his own garbage hole, that he would have to take his garbage to the local landfill. But he came back with the first load he took! “They wanted me to pay to dump my garbage” he said disgustedly. “The hell with them!” So after that Bob and I had to take my parents’ garbage to the landfill for them.

We head south and then west across Namibia. The topography is flat desert with dunes. The closer we get to the coast the colder it gets until we see the crummy weather up ahead hovering the shore. Even though the Kumuka Truck left camp at 5am we pass it parked at the side of the road having lunch in the harsh wind. We honk as we pass and exchange The Finger. The kids all laugh.

Then finally the arrow-straight road on the flat African pan that we have been on for the last five hours ends flat out at a right angle with the beach!

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