There is even a 'Kudu' FM radio station in Namibia, it played some interesting African music. I soon realized that the country revolved a lot around wildlife. Sixteen per cent of the countries GDP was from wildlife tourism! Conservancies (a sort of protected forest areas wholly owned and managed by communities) are set up on communal lands to help people earn revenue from wildlife through tourism and sport hunting. There are strict restrictions on hunting quotas and management.
Once we left Otji we were on a 'gravel road', "this is how it is in most parts of the country" said Emsie. Though we lost the team we managed to reach the dormitory 'Cheetah View' but to our surprise they had not yet arrived there. A frantic search to get mobile signal finally yielded results after driving for a couple of kilometers and me climbing on to the top of the defender. The team had gone to main CCF center for dinner and we had to wait till they returned. A 'donkey' (Gujarat boiler) had fire in it and kept us warm in the cold. Meanwhile I got to know about Emsie a bit who worked in a wilderness safari lodge in the western side of the country.
The course started the next day with an introduction to their captive cheetahs. Participants had come from Botswana, South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, Namibia, Iran, USA, Zambia and the two of us from India, Priya Singh and me.
The course went on for 15 days with several subjects being taught both in classroom and in the field. Visits to farmers who were affected by predators and those who implemented predator-friendly livestock management, interactions with wildlife department officials, veterinarians, academicians were all part of the course. The CCF farm is 44,000 ha. (440 sq km, bigger than several of our protected areas in Karnataka!) of bush, and had several wildlife species on it. Oryx, hertebeest, kudu, porcupine, African jungle cat, spring hare, leopard, cheetahs, aardwolf, bat-eared fox and several other interesting species.
Cheetah View dormitory was basic with "special showers" closed on three sides, a thin green net covered one side and was completely open to the starry African sky. A donkey boiler supplied hot water heated by briquettes, but took a while to heat up. I had to fight with the boiler every
morning to ensure we had hot water. It took a while for me to understand the art of lighting the boiler. Dry grass, small dry twigs, all my camping skills came in handy to get the donkey on fire. But by the time I mastered it was time for us to leave Cheetah View.
There was little time for the participants to really sit and have a chat in the evenings, but got to know them mostly during the sessions. The participants came from varied backgrounds. Gert the South African was the most hilarious and researches to reduce economic loss due to wildlife using GPS radio collars, the wise old owl Ian, an Australian, had traveled round the world before he decided to settle down in Zambia and now manages a national park, Ceril works with farmers in South Africa promoting the Anatolian sheep dog to protect livestock from leopards and cheetahs, Mona, an Iranian educates about the last remaining cheetahs in her country.
The course also took us to the great Etosha National Park and to rural villages of Nambia to understand human-wildlife conflict. While the course went on I also planned visits and had a cordial offer from Emsie and Chris to visit them in Rhino Camp, the wilderness lodge they worked for.
Next blog: Rhino Camp and the desert lions