Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Amani Big Cat Experience

Amani Lodge is 16 miles southest of Windhoek, just beyond the famous Kuppferburg Pass in the rugged terrain of the Namibian Kalahari desert. The lodge sits on a high peak of the Khomas Hochland, (Highlands) and is the highest occupied locale in all of Namibia at 7100 feet above sea level.

The Lodge, and its surrounding acres, is a refuge for Southern African big cats run by a French man, Alain, and his son, Olivier. They have always had a passion for African cats, and have made protecting them their life’s work. When we visited Amani on a Saturday afternoon, we didn't see Alain, but Olivier was present, and must be seen to be believed. He roams the farm tanned and topless with long, sun-stained hair trailing down his body. He staus close to his animals, and clearly loves his work. He conjures images of Tarzan, if Tarzan had no interest in pursuing Jane, or any woman. His intentions are good, and work with the animals is uncompromising, but it is his style that makes him a legend. See for yourself.

(Olivier, Queen of the Kalahari)

Amani has a collectin of animals on their property. They have the traditional plains animals like kudu, impala, and hartebeest, but it is the cats that they are aiming to serve. Some of the cats they have inherited from captivity, and some of them they have rescued from the wild. All the cats have their own enclosures, and all of them are fed in the afternoons for the pleasure of tourists who join the ‘Amani Big Cat Experience.’

Namibia has the largest population of cheetahs in the world, with over 10,000. However, they are still an endangered species, due to competition from other carnivores and shrinking natural territories. The Cheetah Conservation Fund, together Amani Lodge fosters future generations of healthy cheetahs by collecting semen from wild cheetahs, and artificially inseminating cheetahs outside Namibia to stem consanguination.

The cheetahs at Amani were rescued as wild orphans from around southern Africa. They are raised on the refuge in wild conditions, and have minimal human contact to protect their instincts. Consequently they can fend for themselves, and will be the sent out to the wild. The current set of five at Amani are ready to be freed, as the pack before them was, when a suitable territory can be located that fits the requirements of the animals and the Governmnent of Namibia.

Amani’s two Kalahari lions are siblings that were raised from birth on a Namibian farm as pets. When the lions grew to adolescents, they tried to rebel against their owners, and developed aggressive tendencies towards humans. The Nambibian Government wanted to take the animals away from the farm and destroy them, until Amani stepped in and offered them a safe have. The siblings, were in very poor health when they arrived at Amani, because they had been locked in small cages for years, but now they are fit and active.

Bongani, the male, now weights 230 kg, and is over twenty years old. He surpasses both the weight and life expectancy for a lion in the wild under the constant care of the Amani staff. The lioness, Surabi, is the same age, and also larger than normal, at 195 kg. Surabi has been sterilized so that the siblings will never reproduce. Because the lions were raised in captivity, and do not have the skills they need to survive on their own, they cannot be returned to the bush of the Kalahari. However, they seem happy to see the oncoming truck load of people coming, and seem happy to take the free meal that is offered to them every afternoon, and are not bothered by the constant sound of camera churning out photos of them.

Leopards are solitary, noctural animals by nature that survive by hiding their prey in trees and out of the way of lions, and pack animals. Raffiki, the leopard, was raised on a farm, in Nambia, and treated as a pet. He came to Amani in 2006 nursing an injured shoulder that did not allow him to climb trees, and therefore fend for himself in the wild. Now, after the care and medical care of the Amani staff he climbs trees and roams his enclosure like a real leopard. However, because he was raised in captivity, and does not have full strenght in his shoulder he will never be able to survive in the wild on his own.

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