Leopard tracking in Okonjima Nature Reserve
After fleeing the desert sandstorm we’d encountered in Sesriem, we headed 525 kilometers north to Okonjima Lodge. Without a sand dune in sight, a two-day break from camping and a chance to “de-sand” was a welcome prospect.
Halfway between Windhoek and Etosha, Okonjima is a 20,000 hectare reserve situated on the well-known Waterberg Plateau. Not just a luxury lodge, Okonjima is also home to the famous AfriCat Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the long-term conservation of Namibia’s large carnivores, particularly cheetah, lion, leopard and wild dog.
A bed with a view! One of the standard rooms at Plains Camp
Patio outside the room to watch the game wander past
The dining room at Plains Camp - the barn honours the Okonjima cattle-farming history
The swimming pool at Plains Camp - the water was freezing!
There is a good range of accommodation options at Okonjima, from all inclusive luxury bush villas to the more affordable half-board rooms at Plains Camp. There are also 4 exclusive campsites nestled amongst the Omboroko Mountains. After an afternoon of recharging our batteries by the pool and a delicious 3-course dinner, we were all set for our early morning game drive the next day. Okonjima offers a number of activities for guests from game drives to track carnivores, walking trails and guided tours of the AfriCat Carnivore Centre. Having already experienced an amazing cheetah sighting in the Kgalagadi, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to try our luck at tracking leopard. With over 30 leopard thought to live in the reserve, though not all are collared, our guide Previous seemed pretty confident he would find us one!
We set off straight to the top of the nearest hill to try and get a signal from one of the leopard’s radio collars so that we knew which direction to head in. Whilst stopping to admire the sunrise on route, we unexpectedly caught the partial solar eclipse, only visible from Southern Africa and Antarctica! Previous managed to pick up a couple of signals from the collars, one of which was for a relaxed female leopard named Electra.
The partial solar eclipse - the next one is not until February 2018!
Trying to get a signal
Okonjima has a predator-free safe area of 2,000 hectares around the camp so that guests can enjoy the walking trails and move freely around the camp without worrying. It was just after we’d passed through the gate that the signal got stronger. Listening to the alarm calls from the red-billed spurfowl, we knew that we must be in the right place. And sure enough, there she was. Sitting beneath the shade of a tree, looking at us intently, it was a magical sight. Everyone’s cameras were frantically clicking knowing that at any minute she could run off. My heart fell a few moments later when she got up and starting walking away further into the bush, disappointed that our time with her had been so short. Already parked off the main track and with quite thick bush ahead, we quickly lost sight of her. And then Previous announced that she was probably going back to her cub. “A cub! You didn’t tell us that she had a cub!” I thought.
Our first glimpse of Electra - she had managed to get a stick stuck in her radio collar
Sorry just one more...(or maybe two!)
Who could resist that face?!
The last one I promise...!
After some serious bush bashing in pursuit of Electra, Previous managed to lead us right to the spot where she had left her 4-month old cub happily sleeping. Having never seen a leopard cub in the wild before, and especially so close, I was amazed to watch in wonder as the cub playfully chased pigeons and wandered right past the vehicle curiously looking at us. Sadly Electra had already lost one cub from this litter and so she was keeping a close eye to make sure the cub didn’t stray too far. Especially when a slightly hairy moment occurred as a brown hyaena appeared out of the bushes! It quickly bolted after a warning scowl from Electra not to get too close.
Mum keeping a watchful eye on us...
Brown hyaena sloping off into the bushes
On the way back to camp, excitement hit a new high when we came across the reserve’s four wild dog walking through the dry riverbed. Previous told us that they are affectionately known as “The Terrorists” after being found jumping around at the bottom of a tree having chased a leopard far up into the branches! After three hours of thrilling wildlife sightings, I was sorry that our trip to Okonjima was not longer.
Wild dogs walking along the riverbed
Enjoying one of the walking trails
Black wildebeest spotted on the walking trail
Our first sighting of a Damara dik-dik - so beautiful!
To prevent overheating, dik-diks have elongated snouts with bellows-like muscles through which blood is pumped
All photos taken using a Canon 7D Mark II with the following Tamron lenses:
Thank you Tamron SA for lending them to us!
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