Namibia has a lot of opportunities for travelers to experience wildlife. A place like Etosha National Park offers some incredible wildlife viewings. However, spotting the beautiful leopard can be quite tricky. Okonjima Nature Reserve is one of the places in Namibia where you are able to come very close to these creatures. A visit to this amazing place is well worth it to learn more about the leopards of Namibia, as well as the other animals that roam the nature reserve.
The history of Okonjima Nature Reserve
Back in 1970, the Hanssen family settled on a piece of land known as Okonjima. They started farming in a traditional Brahman which allows the cattle to graze freely in the surrounding areas. With lions, leopards, and cheetahs roaming the plains they experienced a lot of kills amongst their cattle. Because of this, the Hanssen family introduced trophy hunting to reduce the threat and earn some money. However, it wasn’t successful, and a lot of cattle were still killed every year. Therefore, they changed their farming style and built an enclosure for the cows to stay in during the night. This tactic was successful and made wildlife and farming exist side by side.
In the late 1980s, the Hanssen family evolved their business and started offering bird watching, as well as bushmen trail excursions. Then in 1991, when on a market, they saw a cheetah cub in captivity. They bought it and cared for it at the farm. This all triggered a desire to do more than kill the carnivores of the area. Instead, they wanted to support them.
The AfriCat Foundation
The Hanssen family then founded the AfriCat Foundation. This is a non-profit organization that has dedicated its resources to the preservation of the largest carnivores of Africa. They help wounded or orphaned animals and rehabilitate them at their care center. This center looks after the carnivores to recover the skills and strength necessary for a life in the wild. However, some of them can’t be rehabilitated. These stay in the care of the foundation, while the others are brought back to the wild.
Okonjima Nature Reserve today
The cattle farm has now been transformed into a 20.000-hectare Okonjima Nature Reserve. The fencing process of the area trapped wild animals that used to roam freely – including about 20 leopards. However, they are still free to roam inside the reserve and safe from the farmers in the area. The landscape of the reserve has undergone changes to support the animals. For instance, waterholes and salt pans have been introduced to ensure the animals have the food and minerals they need.
Activities in Okonjima Nature Reserve
There are several activities to do in Okonjima Nature Reserve. The most popular ones are the game drives inside the reserve, but you are also able to visit the AfriCat Foundation, as well as take some beautiful hikes.
In Okonjima Nature Reserve you are able to join different types of game drives inside the area. These last about 3 hours and take place in the morning or afternoon. If you want to go on a game drive, you must make a booking at the lodge when you arrive.
The most popular of the game drives in Okonjima Nature Reserve is its leopard tracking. Some of the leopards (13 out of 23) inside the reserve are radio-collared for research purposes at the AfriCat Foundation. This makes it possible for the guides to track the leopards. As a visitor, you are able to observe the leopards in their natural habitat. You must keep in mind that even though the leopards are collared they are still wild animals. Therefore, it cannot be guaranteed that you will see a leopard on your game drive. But the odds are in your favor. We were on two leopard trackings and saw leopards both times. It was an incredible experience that left us speechless.
The leopard tracking takes place at 6:00 and 15:30. This type of game drive costs 1.100 NAD for an adult and 550 NAD for a child (6 – 16 years).
Endangered species nature drive
The AfriCat Foundation has a research project on the brown hyena, the bat-eared fox, as well as rhinos. If you join an endangered species game drive, you will most likely focus on these animals. After hours of searching, we were very lucky to encounter two rhinos at close quarters.
The endangered species nature drive takes place at 6:00 and again at 15:30 PM. The prices are 1.100 NAD for an adult and 550 NAD for a child between 6 and 16 years old.
Even though Okonjima Nature Reserve is most famous for its leopard tracking, it is also possible to join a typical game drive. Here you are able to experience some of the many animals inside the park. Antelopes, zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, as well as baboons, roam the plains of the reserve in big herds. This game drive departs at 6:00 and 15:30 PM. This game drive cost 660 NAD for an adult and 330 NAD for children between 6 and 16 years.
If the weather permits it, you are able to join a night drive inside Okonjima Nature Reserve. Here you might be able to spot some of the nocturnal game species that you don’t normally see during the day. A night drive in Okonjima cost 1.100 NAD for an adult and 550 NAD for a child (6 to 16 years).
In addition to the various game drives, there are also several trails for you to tackle when in Okonjima Nature Reserve.
Off the beaten track
This trail is a family-friendly one. A guide will take you on a short walk past the different cultural sites. Afterward, you jump in one of the safari cars and take a short game drive through a small part of the reserve. This experience cost 365 NAD per person – both adults and children from 5 years.
Inside Okonjima Nature Reserve you are also able to go on self-guided walking trails. At the reception, you can find a map with each of the trails marked on it. These trails are free of charge and perfect to do in between game drives.
If weather permits it, you might be able to go on Pangolin tracking. This tracking is only available for guests who stay a minimum of 2 nights at Okonjima Nature Reserve. The activity is done on foot during the night. However, sightings are not guaranteed. This tracking cost 2.000 NAD per adult and 1.000 for children aged 14 to 16. Children under 14 years are not allowed to join this activity.
If the weather permits it, it might also be possible for you to go rhino tracking on foot. You and your guide will be joined by an Okonjima anti-poaching team. They spend hours each day keeping an eye on the endangered animals inside the nature reserve. This activity starts at 6:00 in the morning and 15:30 in the afternoon. The rhino tracking cost 1.500 NAD and 750 NAD for children aged 14 to 16. Children under 14 years are not allowed to take part in this activity.
Visit AfriCat Foundation
During your stay in Okonjima Nature Reserve, you are also able to visit the AfriCat Foundation. Here you are able to observe part of the program and learn about the carnivores in it. It is a perfect way to see how the rehabilitation process actually works. This activity starts at 6:00, as well as at 15:30. The price for a visit to the AfriCat Foundation is 770 NAD for an adult and 385 NAD for children aged 3 to 16 years old.
The ideal number of days in Okonjima Nature Reserve
The ideal number of days in Okonjima Nature Reserve is 2. With 2 nights inside the reserve, you are able to join an afternoon tour the day you arrive, and then two game drives during your second day. However, if your time is limited, 1 night is also very doable. If you do not want to stay the night you are able to join a day tour, which takes place 2 times a day. But it is absolutely best to spend at least one night for you to really explore the reserve and encounter the animals within.