This Sunday we didn’t really have any plans, but had talked about going to Amani lodge. I had just read a little bit about it on the internet, but the pages weren’t updated the last four years. From the phone book I got the number, and made the call. Yes, they could take six people for the “Big cat experience”. A driver was booked, and twenty minutes past 1600h we were on the farm. The first thing that met us was a mount old suricat kitten. The lady asked us to not pick it up, as it was very tame. Animals don’t get much cuter than this.
The Amani lodge does rehabilitation of big cats. To finance the rehabilitation the lodge has bungalows for accommodation (about N$ 800 p. p.) and the “Big cat experience” (N$ 350 p.p.). We entered the two vehicles, four wheels drive with no roof. It was slow, but the terrain was really bumpy and steep.
The first stop was the cheetah feeding. The guide placed out some kudu liver, heart and some meat. Then we waited. Nobody talked and the only sounds we heard where insects, birds and the wind. Then we suddenly saw five cheetahs running down the mountainside, speeding towards us. They were much larger than I had expected. Weighing from 40-65 kg and rise 90 cm in height. Running towards the car they suddenly stopped just a couple of meters from the car. They caught the scent of the meat, walking so close to the car I could have touched it if i had put my hand out. Then they found the first meat and they started eating and fighting over it.
These five cheetahs were only 8 months old when they came to the Amani lodge after being caught by a farmer. In nature they stay with their mothers for 18 mounts learning how to hunt and survive, so they could not be released into nature without rehabilitation. Now they are ready to be introduced to a national park where they can live and breed safe from hunters and farmers. They hunt some animals on their own, and it was clear that they already had had something to eat earlier in the day. There is only paperwork that’s remaining before they can be released. After gazing at these magnificent animals feeding for nearly 40 minutes the tour went on to the lions.
When watching the lion feeding it’s not safe to be in the car. Instead we stood on a platform, but was told not to look the lions in their eyes. They see it as a challenge. From the platform we got close enough to feel the fear of these big cats.
The male and the female had been held by humans as pets, until one day they got to big and dangerous. As kittens they are cute, but they get big soon and such ignorance can often lead in tragedy for both lions and humans. They have a whole mountain to roam free in, but it is uncertain if the can ever be reintroduced anywhere, as they always has been fed by humans.
The last stop on the tour was the leopard. Leopards are shy, and it’s rare to see them in the wild. They sleep in trees waiting patiently for a prey to come close enough for them to hunt down and kill. Then they drag the dead animal up in the tree to keep it from scavengers like hyenas. The leopard at Amani was found with a broken leg, and could not catch prey or climb trees. The leg has healed, but not completely, so it still need to be fed to survive. The hope is that it will recover completely and yet again can roam wild in the countryside. The leopard was one animal we weren’t sure we would see, but we were lucky. This was also the first time since arrival that it climbed up in a tree and sat there for a while. It gives hope for full recovery.
After the leopard feeding we went back to the lodge and enjoyed the sunset with a glass of champagne before we left. As the last group to leave we got invited to a special experience. In the back yard of the lodge they have two tame cheetahs rescued from a small zoo. We got to go inside with them and they came up to us and wanted to be petted. When petted they purred just like a house cat. It was truly an amazing experience to actually pet such a large cat. After a little while they got tired and went to bed. We didn’t take any picture of this, as it was past sunset and flash is harmful to their eyes. But the memory will be with me forever.
Next weekend we will go on a trip to Swakopmund.