What did AfriCat do in 2022?
AfriCat officially restarted operations post Covid on 1 March 2022. Having lost almost all AfriCat staff, in particular all the researchers, and gone into hibernation as a result of Covid we decided to use the opportunity to re-think and re-strategize on how to go forward.
In consultation with the Hanssen family, the founders of AfriCat and the guardians of the Okonjima Nature Reserve, we decided to focus AfriCat activities in the future on research in support of conservation. We wanted to learn from previous struggles to find sustainable and effective solutions for human-wildlife conflict and to take advantage of our home in the ONR to build on the conservation strategy of the establishment and management of protected areas for wildlife conservation. We therefore decided to focus on research on the ecology of flora and fauna in the ONR, an enclosed protected area, to draw lessons for management and enhancement of such areas for conservation.
With this as the agreed upon objective, we reformed AfriCat team. I took over as new Director and have spent the year getting all our systems up and running again, planning our focus, building partnership, buying new research equipment, and keeping track of our budget.
Susanna Lewis de Amable is our Data Manager and has done the most amazing job in 2022 of tidying, organizing and managing our complex system of data entry, cleaning, storing and analysis.
Sven Geider is in charge of Field Operations. He is our tech go-to person in charge of all our research equipment, in particular the camera traps, animal collars and tags and box traps.
Nzwane Batholumeneous is our main Data Collector, joined later in the year by Jacob Mbango. Both have been here for many years and know the Okonjima Nature Reserve inside out making them wonderfully suited for data collection.
Andries Garab is the one AfriCat staff member who was here pre-Covid and remained with us throughout. He looks after the welfare animals and also supports the field operations.
Daniel Hiskia, otherwise known as Lucas, was also with us previously; he left for a short time during Covid but we were able to bring him back and he works with Andries looking after the welfare animals and supporting field operations.
We also have a team of pangolin guardians who work after hours to support pangolin research in the night
We also had changes in our veterinary support. We said goodbye to Dr. Diethardt Rodenwoldt in 2022; Diethardt joined AfriCat in 2016 and has looked after all our veterinary work since that time, including during Covid when he helped to keep things ticking over. However, Diethardt decided to move on to new challenges in 2022. We wish Diethardt all the best in the future and thank him hugely for his dedication and commitment to AfriCat.
As we no longer have a vet based at AfriCat, we have instead developed wonderful partnerships with Dr. Ulf Tubbesing and Mariska Bijsterbosch of Wildlife Vets Namibia, Dr. Gernot Redecker of Animal Hospital, Windhoek and Dr. Nick Buys of Nature Travel Namibia. All have helped us out numerous times in 2022 and we have lots of plans for further collaboration in 2023. And old friends Dr. Mark Jago from UNAM and Drs. Adrian Tordiffe and Gerhard Steenkamp from the University of Pretoria, as in the past, are always generous with their advice and expertise.
Meanwhile Donna Hanssen and Angelique Smith manage all of our social media, Tyla Hoth, and Lisa Frost look after our websites and Wayne Hanssen remains the Chair of our Board.
The Okonjima Guides continue to collect the majority of our data on wildlife in the Reserve and we had many fun meetings between the AfriCat team and the Okonjima Guides in 2022 comparing notes, sharing data and gossiping about the goings on of the Okonjima Nature Reserve.
In 2022 we also re-organised AfriCat America https://www.africatamerica.org/ which represents us in America. Lindsay Kennon looks out for us in the US and with her help we now have a new website, a new bank account and a fund-raising strategy.
As people resumed travelling after Covid, we were visited by many old friends and supporters. Lorraine Kelly, one of our patrons in the UK, visited Namibia and made a wonderful video for us about the plight of the pangolin. Carey and Janet Widdows, long term supporters of AfriCat UK also visited and one of AfriCat’s most steadfast supporters, Bruce Allen, came for his annual visit, bearing several weird and wonderful research aids. Zoologist Jack Randall from Made in the Wild, another UK patron stopped by and we made plans for him to bring a group of field conservation students to Okonjima in 2023 to hone their field research skills and help us with data collection.
During Covid we had a wonderful response to our Go Fund Me campaign from former guests to Okonjima. Many also contributed to our Donate Now Stay Later campaign and came to stay in 2022; others have booked for 2023 or 2024. These funds helped keep us afloat during Covid and have played a major role in helping us get back on our feet in 2022.
We hosted six environmental education visits PAWS for Environmental Education in 2022. These were bookings from pre-Covid and all the groups reported having a wonderful time and learning so much. However, we have reluctantly decided we are unable to host more environmental education groups in 2023 as we don’t have the resources; we’ll relook at this decision in the future. Vet students from the University of Namibia UNAM 1+2 were one of these groups and they will be the exception in 2023 as we want to support the national university and the future vets of Namibia.
We also received five Behind the Scenes visits in 2022. These are small groups of Okonjima guests who are particularly interested in the work of AfriCat. We take them ‘behind the scenes’ to see the work of the Foundation, give them special presentations on our research and the findings and provide a specialist guide with expertise in conservation. These groups pay a “behind the scenes” fee which, combined with funding support we get from Okonjima Lodges, forms the bulk of our funding.But aside from all of that, what we spent most of 2022 doing was improving and strengthening our research.
Our flagship leopard research continued through Covid, thanks to the Okonjima guides and guests who visited; we continued to collect data from leopard sightings. We also re-started data collection by camera trap in baited leopard trees. We have recorded and identified 29 leopards in the ONR, including youngsters; 3 of these leopards are only seen on camera trap.
The AfriCat Pangolin Research Project continued through Covid but we have been able to significantly improve it in 2022. We have increased the number of pangolins recruited into the study, registered all known pangolin burrows and set up camera traps at many of them. We have found ‘old’ individuals that were formerly part of our research pre Covid and also new individuals, some of whom are the offspring of ‘old’ pangolin. We have had problems with some of the pangolin tags however and will be looking to find improvements in 2023.
We also started to collect data on “lesser-seen animals” in order to find out how common they are in the ONR and if they are in specific areas. We collect this data from sightings and from camera traps. We have recorded aardvark, caracal, African wildcat. Also, lots of bat-eared foxes and several honey badgers. We found a cheetah that got into the Reserve and having made a hole for her to get back out, we also recorded her leaving again. These data will potentially form the basis of future research one some of these species.
AfriCat was invited to join the Namibian Pangolin and Carnivore Working Groups, chaired by the Ministry of Environment, Forestry. We welcome the opportunity for collaboration and have been able to connect with multiple other conservation stakeholders including the Namibian Chamber of Environment, Ongava Research Centre, the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, the Black-Footed Cat Research Project, the Cheetah Conservation Fund, N/a’an ku sê, and the NUST Biodiversity Research Centre.
We have lots of plans in the works for 2023 but will tell you about that in the next newsletter. For now, from all of us here at AfriCat, THANK YOU for your support in 2022. It has been a whirlwind year and we are excited for 2023. We wish you a wonderful festive season.
Karen, AfriCat Director
PS. If you are still struggling with last minute Christmas presents, have a look at our AfriCat Namibia calendar. It showcases some of the AfriCat research and welfare animals that many of you have met. All pictures were taken by AfriCat staff in 2022 and all profits will support our work.