Annual Reports & Newsletters
The AfriCat story started in 1970, when the Hanssen family settled on the farm Okonjima in central Namibia. Brahman cattle were raised on the land but annual losses of calves to predators, particularly leopards, amounted to between 20 and 30 per year, decimating the herd and resulting in huge financial losses. As with many farmers at that time, the Hanssens took the path of trapping, shooting, and hunting leopards in an attempt to minimise their losses.
Habitat loss is one of the largest threats to the large carnivore populations in Namibia. Over 7,000 commercial livestock and game farms cover approximately 355,000 km2 and communal land covers an estimated area of 125,000 km2 of Namibia’s total 825,418 km2. With the majority of leopards and cheetahs existing in these parts of the country, the resulting conflict between these predators and farmers protecting their livelihood is inevitable as the areas of natural habitat where these animals can safely exist have, consequently, been reduced dramatically.
Namibia is home to approximately 25% of the world’s cheetah population, of which 90% live on farmland. Namibia’s other large carnivores, namely leopards, lions, Wild Dogs, brown and spotted hyenas, are not, however, believed to make up such a large percentage of the world’s population even though they also all occur in the unique farmland ecosystem. It is the inevitable conflict with humans on commercial and communal farmland that created the necessity for the establishment of the AfriCat Foundation.
In Africa, lions are mainly restricted to larger parks, reserves, and the remaining wilderness areas in savannas, covering no more than 20–25 % of their historic range (IUCN SSC Cat Specialist Group 2006b; Riggio et al. 2012). Range collapse has been accompanied by plummeting lion numbers. Reliable population estimates for elusive, often nocturnal predators are notoriously difficult, but a variety of estimates converge at roughly 32,000 (Riggio et al. 2012). Rates of decline are alarming, as the number of African lions has fallen 30 % over the past two decades (three lion generations) and perhaps by 48.5 % since 1980 (IUCN 2012). Conflicts with people are overwhelmingly responsible for the range and population collapse of lions. Retaliatory killing in response to attacks on livestock and people (Patterson et al. 2004; Packer et al. 2005), native prey depletion through overgrazing and bushmeat harvest (Burton et al. 2011), and loss and fragmentation of habitat (Hunter et al. 2007; Kiffner et al. 2009; Riggio et al. 2012) are the most widely acknowledged causes of lion endangerment (IUCN SSC Cat Specialist Group 2006b).
Here at AfriCat we’ve evolved considerably since afternoon tea with ‘Chinga’ on the lawn two decades ago: from cheetah and leopard rescue, care & release, to rescue and rehabilitation; from farmer support to ‘Conservation Through Education’. During this period, the Rescue and Release Programme has developed as a result of our relationship with the farming community. The ‘Welfare and Carnivore Care Centre’, is a by- product of the Rescue and Release Programme. Although we currently care for cheetahs that are part of our Rehabilitation Project, those carnivores too old or tame to go back into the wild will live out their lives under our expert care and continue to be ‘ambassadors’ for their wild counterparts at AfriCat’s Carnivore Care Centre.
Tusk Trust celebrated its 25th anniversary in May 2015 with a dinner hosted by its patron, the Duke of Cambridge, at Windsor Castle. Donna Hanssen was honoured to attend on behalf of AfriCat, one of two projects that Tusk supports in Namibia. TUSK was one of AfriCat’s earliest supporters, and provides finance for an array of the Foundation’s projects. In 1999 it co-sponsored the first electrified perimeter fence, which kick-started the Cheetah Rehabilitation Project. TUSK was the first group outside of Okonjima that believed in the Foundation’s vision that an ‘orphaned’ cheetah could learn how to hunt through trial and error, and with support and time, hone its skills to become independent. Since 2012, TUSK has been the main sponsor of AfriCat’s Environmental Education Programme. The programme is an enormous success, exposing young Namibians to some of the major environmental and conservation challenges facing their generation. The programme is set to expand to increase the number of learners who pass through its doors. The challenges to predator conservation in Africa are large indeed, for as human populations continue to grow, the land left over for wildlife shrinks almost daily. Namibia is not immune to this phenomenon and the conflict between humans and wildlife requires continuous managing. Our sincere thanks go to TUSK for their invaluable support.
The AfriCat Hobatere Lion Research Project has gained momentum and now boasts seven lions fitted with GPS-Satellite collars (4 males and 3 females). We have been able to deploy more trail cameras in the study area and now have a good idea of the lion population within the Hobatere Concession Area as well as the movement of lions between Hobatere, western Etosha and the surrounding farmland. Soon we will be expanding the project further afield, into the surrounding communal farmland and other protected areas
For the past 21 years, AfriCat has stumbled, fallen and righted itself, knowing that its parents, the Hanssen family, were there to guide it to adulthood and beyond. As 'parents', we have at times worried about AfriCat's future as a credible conservation organization. We have shifted from trying to find solutions to predator conflict and sharing our research data and common sense to find ways to 'live with predators’, to becoming a safe-haven for a number of persecuted large carnivores. Prior to 2010, with more than 100 carnivores in our Care Centre and little proof that those we have released have survived, we find that the message has reached very few commercial (free-hold) farmers... our Sanctuary is home to mostly healthy animals that should be allowed to roam free. However, the merging of Afri-Leo with AfriCat in 2010, marked the turning point from Rescue & Release to 'Conservation Through Education' and Community Support. In our 21st year, we are reminded of our humble beginnings, guided by our parents Val & Rose Hanssen, who gave us the greatest gift one could give a child, 'to love the land and all the wilderness and to leave it a better place than we found it'. Join us as we page through AfriCat's Album 1993-2014, as we are proud of what AfriCat has become.
The AfriCat Hobatere Lion Research Project (AHLRP), which is run under the auspices of the Communal Carnivore Conservation Programme (CCCP), plans to collar (using GPS-Satellite collars) and monitor as many lions as possible in order to establish population numbers, dynamics and movements; at the same time, AfriCat’s Communal Carnivore Programme (CCCP) supports farming communities by building strong nocturnal kraals where livestock are protected from marauding lions. The use of such collars will provide data on the lions’ whereabouts, offering the farmers an early-warning system when lions move into their areas.
While Namibia is at the forefront of community conservation, and about 40% of the country comprises conservation areas, the status of its lions is still uncertain.Namibias wild lion populations range from between 600-800, found only in the Kunene Region, Etosha National Park, the Caprivi as well as the Khaudom Park Conservancy. Despite these numbers being considered healthy, the morality rates through persecution, especially during drought, continue unabated. Tests indicate that Lion populations of the Etosha National Park and Kunene Regions are FIV-FREE (Feline Immuno-deficiency Virus). Which makes them globally important as founder populations.
Namibia’s first drought since 2000 has left most farming communities with high stock numbers, fail- ing waters and dusty plains devoid of grass. With this in mind, the AfriCat Team is facing its greatest challenge yet: farmers are afraid and frustrated, even less tolerant of livestock losses to predators than before, forcing us to adapt our farmer – predator conflict mitigation programmes to accommodate this catastrophe which threatens both man and beast alike. AfriCat North’s communal nocturnal kraals effectively reduce losses to lions and hyaena; this year, however, farmers are moving their livestock further afield, often into wildlife protected areas, chal- lenging us to design mobile kraals able to move with the herds. Closer to home in the Okonjima Nature Reserve, ‘super-Mom’ Cheetahs Penta, Tongs and Dizzy have shown their mettle, encouraging evidence in support of AfriCat’s Rehabilitation programme. To all who support AfriCat, our sincere thanks, we could not continue without you.
If you were to question, “what is the greatest threat to wildlife?” most of us would probably answer Man... and be fairly close to the truth. But if man is the greatest threat to wildllife, then what does the rural African, the commercial and communal farmer consider as his greatest threats while carving out a life for himself in deepest Africa? Wildlife. So in this conflict zone between wildlife and humans, with each defending his own territory and occasionally making forays into the other’s, the terms have been replaced. What was considered a “problem animal” in the past, is now appropriately referred to as “Human Wildlife Conflict” (HWC). Dr Mark Jago - Trustee.